The Archdiocese of Paris announced Tuesday that a priest who helped develop Vatican policy on gay seminarians has been barred from priestly ministry, and ordered to a life of prayer, after a canonical process over allegations that he abused young men, including a 14- year-old minor, under the guise of therapy.
Msgr. Tony Anatrella, 81, has also been told to cease his work as a psychotherapist and refrain from publishing or public speaking.
The directive came in a penal precept, a kind of prohibitive canonical order, which was issued after a canonical process handled by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which oversees complaints of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.
Anatrella has been a prominent figure in the Church for decades. He helped to write the 2005 Vatican policy that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not be admitted to seminaries, helped coordinate a Vatican conference on clerical celibacy, and served as an expert at the Synod on the Family.
The priest, who helped the French bishops craft their 2003 document on “fighting pedophilia,” has also been accused of sexually abusing young men and teenage boys under the pretext of therapy.
Even after he was first accused in 2001 of manipulating a young man into sexual acts under the pretence of therapy to treat “homosexual impulses,” Anatrella continued for years to be a significant influence in the Church in France and in Rome on the subjects of homosexuality and clerical celibacy.
According to a Jan. 17 statement from the Paris archdiocese, a canonical process against Anatrella was started in Paris in 2016, after several complaints against the priest were dismissed by the French courts because the statute of limitations had expired, and the priest had been barred from public ministry since 2018.
The archdiocesan statement indicates that after the canonical process, the DDF ordered Anatrella to cease his psychotherapy practice, and the archdiocese added a broader set of prohibitions and restrictions, by issuing a penal precept.
While neither the DDF not the archdiocese have stated clearly the outcome of a penal process, the issuance of a precept, rather than the conferral of a penalty, suggests the possibility that a definitive finding of guilt was not reached in the penal case.
The announcement of the archdiocesan decision in Anatrella’s case, barring him from public speaking, writing, and professional practice as well as priestly ministry, follows considerable public scrutiny of the case of Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ, the well known religious artist.
In 2020, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith declared and then remitted the penalty of excommunication against Rupnik for attempting to sacramentally absolve an accomplice in sexual misconduct. The following year, the Vatican declined to waive the canonical statute of limitations after an investigation into accusations Rupnik serially sexually abused women religious.
According to the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Arturo Sosa, Rupnik was placed on “restricted ministry” following his 2020 excommunication.
But despite allegations and excommunication, Rupnik continues to serve as an advisor to several Vatican dicasteries, has received awards for his work, and was commissioned to redesign an important Jesuit spiritual site.
Timeline of Msgr. Tony Anatrella
Feb. 14, 1941 Birth of Tony Anatrella.
1968 Ordination to the priesthood. In the following years, he builds a public profile in France as a psychotherapist, earning the nickname “psy de l’Église” (the “Church’s shrink”).
2001 According to some accounts, the Archdiocese of Paris receives its first complaint against Anatrella from a former seminarian who reportedly tells the then-Paris archbishop Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger that the priest manipulated him into sexual acts during “body therapy” designed to treat “homosexual impulses.”
2003 Anatrella is reportedly involved in the creation of the French bishops’ document “Lutter contre la pédophilie” (“Fighting pedophilia”).
2005 Anatrella is said to have helped craft Vatican guidelines on the admission of homosexual men to seminaries. He writes a commentary on the document in L’Osservatore Romano, saying that “candidates who present ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies,’ that is, an exclusive attraction with regard to persons of the same sex (a structural orientation) — independently of whether or not they’ve had erotic experiences — may not be admitted to seminaries and to sacred orders.”
2006 Accusations against Anatrella are made public for the first time in the French Catholic magazine Golias. He is accused of inappropriate conduct toward patients under the guise of “body therapy.”
2007 Three complaints against Anatrella are dismissed by the French justice system, brought by former patients of the priest, accusing him of sexually abusing them under the pretext of treatment for homosexual tendencies. Two of the claims are rejected because of the statute of limitations and one for lack of evidence. Anatrella’s attempt to sue for defamation is also dismissed.
2010 Anatrella serves on the Vatican Medjugorje commission.
2014 Anatrella — then a consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers — is named a collaborator of the special secretary at the family synod.
February 2016 Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin thanks Anatrella for helping to organize a conference on the theme “Priestly celibacy, a path of freedom,” sponsored by Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.
That same month, Anatrella tells newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their responsibility “to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds.”
May 15, 2016 French television channel TF1 broadcasts testimonies of men who allege they were sexually manipulated by Anatrella during therapy sessions.
Summer 2016 The Archdiocese of Paris begins canonical proceedings. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois reportedly asks then-Paris auxiliary bishop (now president of the French bishops’ conference) Éric de Moulins-Beaufort to lead a commission hearing testimonies.
February 2017 The Pontifical John Paul II Institute announces that Anatrella will give an address at a course on sex education on the theme “Can Fantasy and Imagination be Educated?” The talk is canceled at the last minute.
French Catholic media reported that same month that the Archbishop of Paris had decided to continue the canonical procedure after receiving a report from the commission that heard witnesses. The process was relocated to the Archdiocese of Toulouse, southern France, as Anatrella had acted as a consultor to the Church tribunal in Paris, which could create a conflict of interest.
February 2022 Anatrella attends a Vatican conference on the priesthood after registering on his own initiative.
Jan. 17, 2023 The Archdiocese of Paris issues a statement announcing the outcome of the canonical process, reportedly concluded the previous month. It says: “The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith enjoined the person concerned to immediately renounce all professional activities as a therapist.”
The archdiocese explains that Paris Archbishop Laurent Ulrich sent Anatrella “a monition with a penal precept,” ordering the priest, “under pain of canonical sanctions,” to cease all activities related to psychotherapy, any publication of work, “all participation in colloquia, public meetings, conferences, etc,” any presiding over or public concelebration of liturgies, and the hearing of confessions.
The archbishop also directed Anatrella to lead a retired life dedicated to prayer.