French Catholic Church in new sex abuse scandal centred on ‘psychoanalyst’ priest

By Daphné Gastaldi, Mathieu Martiniere Et Mathieu Périsse

Over recent months, the French Catholic Church has become engulfed by revelations of paedophile activity by priests who allegedly benefited from protection from their hierarchy. Wide exposure of the cases, some dating back to the 1990s, has led to more witnesses coming forward to complain of sexual abuse by members of the Church. Among the latest cases to resurface now is that of a Paris priest who allegedly engaged for years in the sexual abuse of patients he received as a psychoanalyst. Mediapart can reveal that Tony Anatrella, an advisor to two Vatican councils and who teaches at a prestigious ecclesiastic college in Paris, has never been investigated by the Church despite numerous complaints made against him since 2001. Daphné Gastaldi, Mathieu Martiniere and Mathieu Périsse report.

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The thought of passing by the psychoanalysis practice situated on the Place de la Nation, a huge square in south-east Paris, filled Fabien (whose real name is withheld here) with anguish to the point that he left the city to begin a new life elsewhere. “At the end of the therapy, I was blocked,” he recalled. “I can’t ride a bike anymore. I had the impression that my body was consuming itself and I regularly took cold showers.”

Fabien, in his early 40s, today lives in the Rhône-Alpes département (county) in south-east France. In a lengthy interview with Mediapart, he described how for 14 years, up until 2011, he was a patient of Monseigneur Tony Anatrella, a priest of the Diocese of Paris, a ‘consultor’ with the Vatican, a controversial psychoanalyst and personality who proclaims himself to be a “specialist in social psychiatry”. Fabien said he was subjected to a perverse therapy which involved a progressive path from acts of rubbing his body - “on top of clothing or on the skin,” he recalled – and eventually to masturbation.

His account appears certain to re-open  a judicial investigation that was closed, with no further action taken, in 2007. On April 29th, French public broadcaster France 3 revealed that two other men, both former pupils of the Lycée Arago, have announced their intention to lodge a formal complaint against the priest for sexual harassment. Their complaint concerns alleged events that took place when Anatrella was chaplain at the school, also situated on the Place de la Nation.

Meanwhile, Dominican priest Philippe Lefebvre, who teaches theology at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, has informed Mediapart that he is in contact with another alleged victim of Anatrella’s, with whom he was once a patient.

Priest Tony Anatrella (April 2016). Priest Tony Anatrella (April 2016).

Anatrella, 75, is a ‘consultor’ for two Vatican bodies, the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care (which centres on health care matters). A teacher with the prestigious Collège des Bernardins in Paris, Antatrella wields significant influence within the Catholic Church in Rome and Paris and his theories about adolescence and conservative views about homosexuality are regularly cited.

In 2006, the Paris public prosecutor’s office opened a preliminary investigation into the claims of three young male adults who denounced sexual abuse they allegedly suffered from Anatrella while patients of his. Only one of the three lodged an official complaint against the priest. In September 2007, the investigation was closed after it was decided that the events described by two of the men related to a period that was covered by prescription laws - when the period of time that has elapsed between when an alleged crime took place and the opening of an investigation is more than ten years – while, in the case of the third, there was insufficient proof of a crime. At the time the national press in France reported the cases, and one of the three alleged victims gave a lengthy interview to Golias, a left-wing Catholic magazine.   

Despite the coverage, the French Catholic Church did not open an internal investigation into the allegations against Tony Antatrella.

Mediapart has gained access to several documents that show that the Paris archdiocese was alerted in 2001 by an alleged victim of Anatrella’s about his sexual abuse. In 2007, before the closure of the preliminary investigation led by the Paris public prosecutor’s office, that same person again raised his allegations against Anatrella in letters sent by recorded delivery to eight bishops, including those of Paris, Bordeaux and Lorraine. Subsequently, on September 25th 2007, the Paris archdiocese’s ecclesiastic judge decided that given the recent closure of the public prosecutor’s investigation, there was no reason to open a “canonical procedure”.

Last week, a Paris priest met with the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois to discuss the two new cases leveled against Anatrella by the former pupils of the Lycée Arago. The priest has, at the time this article is published, received no formal reaction from Vingt-Trois. “I had the impression that he was not interested,” said the priest, whose name is withheld.

Contacted by Mediapart, a spokesperson for the Paris diocese said “if a person considers themselves to have been victim of acts that constitute a crime, they are incited to lodge a complaint and take their case to the judicial authorities”. The spokesperson added that the diocese “has no knowledge of complaints against father Anatrella”.

As for the Paris ecclesiastic court, its president, Claude Petit Delmas, said no investigation had been opened. “Anonymous letters [mean] you cannot contact people in return,” he said. “They were rumours.”

Also contacted by Mediapart, neither the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, nor the Vatican’s ambassador to Paris (who we were told was traveling abroad) agreed to comment on the issue.

Tony Anatrella, contacted via an assistant, told Mediapart that he would not “at present” answer questions from the press.

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