By Cameron Doody and Hendro Munsterman
Monsignor Tony Anatrella was widely considered the official “gay expert” in the Vatican and the French Catholic Church. The priest, psychoanalyst and author of thirty books on same-sex attraction was the driving force behind the 2005 decree of the Congregation for Catholic Education that barred gays from becoming priests. A member of the Medjugorje commission of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and a consultor to two Pontifical Councils – for the Family and for Health Care Ministry – the man known in Paris as the “Church’s shrink” taught that homosexuals are narcissists who are incapable of forming long-term relationships. “You’re not gay, you just think that you are”, the psychoanalyst used to say to the dozens of seminarians sent to him during three decades from all over France to “cure” their homosexuality. Anatrella was even asked to cross over into the realm of child protection, giving a course in Rome in 2015 to newly-appointed bishops from all over the world on how to handle sexual abuse, in which he told them there is no need to inform the civil authorities when a prelate hears about sexual abuse by one of his priests.
But all the while – or at least since 2006, when the first victims spoke publicly – everybody in the Vatican and in the French Church knew that Anatrella had been accused by several men of abusing them during special “physical therapy” sessions. His alleged victims accuse him of encouraging them to live out their homosexual fantasies during their one-on-one appointments. The sessions included orgasms and Monsignor Anatrella “only wore his socks” thoroughout them, one of the victims told the Dutch newspaper Nederlands Dagblad. “I know details about his body only someone who has seen him naked can know”, said this young man.
Anatrella’s secret finally came undone last week when the Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, finally suspended him from public ministry for abusing young men in his care. Aupetit’s predecessors, Cardinals Lustiger and Vingt-Trois, had publicly supported the priest and psychoanalyst, even after several victims complained to the archdiocese. Those were times in which the French society was dealing with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Anatrella was considered by the episcopate as an important voice in the debate, since he could speak on the topic as a respected psychoanalyst.
The French Dominican Philippe Lefèbvre was for years almost the only one who opposed the ideas of the influential monsignor. But now that the priest has fallen from his pedestal, Lefèbvre denounces the ecclesiastical culture that enabled this scandal to flourish.
The Dominican doesn’t mince words anymore. He says the way in which the Roman Catholic Church has dealt with Anatrella’s victims has been by nothing less than “mafia practices”. Lefèbvre, who teaches biblical studies in Fribourg (Switzerland), came in touch with Anatrella’s thinking by chance when he was working on a book about men and women in the Bible.
“At the beginning of 2006 I came across an article in which Anatrella writes about the inability of homosexuals to become priests. And I read his book on homosexuality with the title The Origins of Homosexuality and The Reign of Narcissus. I then wrote a critical response. Two French Catholic magazines refused to publish it. ‘You’re right, but we can’t afford to criticize Anatrella’, they said to me. Eventually my story ended up on a Catholic internet site. Among the numerous reactions I received, there was also a letter from a young man who endured Anatrella’s ‘physical therapies’. He had come to Anatrella to have his homosexual attraction healed”.
Was he the only victim that you have come to know?
No. A French priest who was involved in the pastoral care for homosexuals wrote to me and said he knew three men who had gone through the same thing. That priest started talking to seven bishops in November 2006. They weren’t surprised at all. Everyone knew about it! On November 23, 2006, Cardinal Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, wrote an e-mail to all his priests: “We support Monsignor Anatrella with our prayer and our esteem”.
I know four victims personally, but even more have written to me. At the end of 2006, when it came out that the French bishops had done nothing about it, I wrote a new article, in which I also mentioned Anatrella’s “physical therapy”.
Did you take risks?
The church gives these people an almost almighty status. And if you criticize them, you get the bishops coming down on you. Or the whole Catholic system of laymen that keeps all kinds of internet sites running. They are mafia practices that are accompanied even by intimidations. I know that Anatrella has tried everything to get me removed from my chair here at the faculty in Fribourg, even going to the highest Roman court. I also received phone calls from friends who told me that I was being portrayed as the “destroyer of the church” in Rome. A bishop told me that I had better stop, since my lectureship depends on the Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome.
How can this support for Anatrella from the highest levels of the Church be explained?
Bishops are generally weak-willed. Someone who takes a firm position in the public debate about matters such as the family and homosexuality is therefore good for them. If you are scared yourself, you send in the dogs. And Anatrella said things that conservative Catholics like to hear. Many French priests and monks have also been in therapy with Anatrella, often to cure their homosexual attraction. Some of them now have high positions in the church. Anatrella knows things, and people are afraid of him. But the victims have remained very worthy, brave and courageous. They haven’t got discouraged.
Why do you find this affair so significant?
Thinking differently – about the family, for example – has been made completely impossible by the current ecclesiastical structures. Either by ecclesiastical office-bearers, or by conservative laymen with their internet sites. In Iran we call that the revolutionary guard. The Ayatollahs have the power, but then there are the people who look after all the villages and families, and check, for example, if your wife’s headscarf is thick enough. The Roman Catholic Church has come to resemble that. The culture of discussion and dialogue has completely disappeared. We are in a Church of conformity with apparatchiks that maintain an institution. Jesus calls them “the dead who bury the dead”. Anatrella has held French Catholicism in his ideological grip for thirty years, while the bishops knew of his abuse. In the corridors several bishops said to me: “You’re right, but don’t say it was me who told you”.
The current Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, came out [and suspended Anatrella] very cleverly just before the summer holiday. After the summer we will have forgotten about it again.
But I hope Anatrella’s suspension is the beginning of a new reflection.