It’s SO counter-intuitive. It’s SO hard to imagine.
How could Catholic officials – after decades of devastating, embarrassing and morale-destroying prosecutions, lawsuits and exposes – how could they NOT radically reform and prevent the widespread sexual abuse of boys and girls in the church? How could they NOT work overtime to fix this?
But they don’t, and here’s the latest head-scratching, mind-numbing proof (AND a reminder of why each of us has to do our part to safeguard kids in the church).
“Prominent French priest barred from ministry over abuse attends Vatican priesthood conference.” That’s the headline in the Feb. 18, 2022 National Catholic Reporter.
Let us briefly break it down for you.
He’s rabidly anti-gay.
He has said publicly – just a few years back – that the church hierarchy does NOT have an obligation to report abuse to police or prosecutors.
And he’s purportedly been removed from public ministry due to multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.
But he’s not been defrocked. His “priestly faculties” have not been removed. He’s not been sentenced to “prayer and penance.” He’s not being kept isolated or supervised.
In fact, he is now “attending a major Vatican conference on the priesthood, organized, in part, to help the church turn a corner on abuse,” according to the NCR.
Msgr. Tony Anatrella, is “a psychotherapist who was once a Vatican adviser on matters regarding human sexuality.” In 2018, he was banned from ministering as a priest by the Archbishop of Paris.
Abuse allegations against Tony Anatrella “first surfaced in the early 2000’s and continued to mount over the next two decades,” reports the NCR. In 2017, the Paris Archdiocese launched an investigation into the controversial priest, resulting in his removal from public ministry.
Last June 2021, Parisian church officials announced that Msgr. Tony Anatrella would even face a canonical trial.
That seems good, right? His supervisors taking action against him seems encouraging.
Why then do they allow him to leave the country, go to the literal and figurative center of Catholicism, and insert himself into this high-level, high-visibility conference?
And when we say “they,” we mean two groups.
First, there are his bosses and colleagues in Paris. (Surely he told at least one of his peers he was planning to go to Rome.)
Second, there are his bosses in the Vatican. (Surely someone in that vast bureaucracy was assigned to pay attention to who got invited and who registered and who showed up for the conference.)
Could he have ‘slipped through the cracks’ somehow?
That seems highly unlikely. He’s the author of a dozen books on marriage, family and sexuality. He was a consultant to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers. The abuse reports against him are multiple and surfaced relatively recently. They attracted considerable public attention.
So what does this all mean? Tragically, it means that despite emphatic, sincere-sounding pledges of reform are just that – sincere-sounding, but not real. It means that clergy who want to do right must get discouraged, watching their wrongdoing colleagues continue to be welcome in their clergy ranks. It means that predators can be ousted from one city yet show up in another city and be welcomed among their peers.
And it of course means that none of us should relax. None of us should give Catholic officials any ‘benefit of the doubt’ on abuse. None of us should sit on suspicions or knowledge of child sex crimes or cover ups in the church, because if we don’t keep exposing the truth and protecting the children, who will?