A notoriously anti-gay priest in Paris will face trial within the Catholic Church over his self-professed attempts to “cure” homosexuality. His method: have sex with men.
Msgr. Tony Anatrella has a long history of campaigning against LGBTQ rights initiatives inside and outside the church. In 2005, he authored an article supporting a ban on LGBTQ people from serving in the priesthood. The following year, he claimed gay men raise “violent” children, and further supported a ban on same-sex marriage equality. He further described homosexuality as a “confusion of sex and feelings leads to a confusion of the realities and an impasse.”
Anatrella’s stance on homosexuality boggles the mind considering his decades-long history of sexual assault of other men. The National Catholic Reporterreports that allegations against Anatrella have circulated for more than 20 years. In 2006, a former seminarian named Daniel Lamarca claimed Anatrella sexually assaulted him during therapy sessions in the 1980s. Lamaraca, a gay man, had sought counsel from Anatrella over his own feelings of homosexuality. He claims Anatrella’s therapeutic approach was to insist the two have sex.
“I know details about Anatrella’s body that could only be known to someone who has seen him naked,” the man told reporters in 2006, adding that he tried to report the abuse in 2001 to church authorities but received no response.
More accusations against Anatrella surfaced in 2008, and again in 2016, leading to a reprimand by the church which banned him from practicing therapy, performing mass or preaching in public. Then, in 2019, a grandfather who attended a school where Anatrella served as a chaplain, accused the priest of rape. The victim claims that Anatrella forced him to have sex; at the time, he was just 14-years-old.
In an even more unusual move, at least one priest claims he has warned church leadership for years about Anatrella’s predatory behavior to no avail. Fr. Philippe Lefebvre has authored rebuttals and polemics against Anatrella’s teachings about homosexuality. He also claims Anatrella’s victims approached him personally for help.
“I told seven French bishops and the president of the Conference of French Bishops,” Lefebvre said. “I did not get any reply. Nothing happened. What happened is that, when my name came up in the press, I was told to be careful and not to criticize Tony Anatrella because he was somebody important in the Vatican.”
At the time of this writing, it remains unclear what when Anatrella’s church trial will begin and what charges he will face. Catholic trials carry strict secrecy requirements, and the details of them seldom are made public. As a psychotherapist, Anatrella, now 80, has authored more than a dozen books, mostly about the evils of homosexuality.
The Vatican is investigating rumours of a “sex party” at a British cathedral which is alleged to have happened during lockdown.
As part of an investigation into the circumstances of Robert Byrne’s resignation as the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the Catholic church is looking into claims one of his priests invited worshippers to a private party at his lodgings.
Multiple people are said to have complained that Father Michael McCoy, dean of Newcastle Cathedral, approached them to attend a party at a time when gatherings were not permitted.
A diocese source told the Sunday Times said: “A number of complaints were made by individuals within the diocese after information came to light about a sex party taking place in the priests’ living quarters attached to Newcastle Cathedral.”
McCoy, 57, killed himself in April 2021 four days after finding out he was subject to an investigation by Northumbria police’s child and adult protection department for child sexual abuse.
He had been appointed by Byrne in 2019, replacing the popular Father Dermott Donnelly, the older brother of TV presenter Declan Donnelly. Father Donnelly has since died after an illness in July 2022.
While there is no suggestion Byrne attended the party, he resigned as bishop in December, telling worshippers his office “has become too great a burden”.
In a letter to clergy, which he read in St Mary’s Cathedral in Newcastle, he said: “My own discernment has caused me to recognise that I now feel unable to continue serving the people of the diocese in the way that I would wish.”
He was appointed in 2019, after previously serving as an auxiliary in the archdiocese of Birmingham and as provost of the Oxford Oratory from 1993 to 2011.
In a letter seen by the Sunday Times, the archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon who is running the diocese until Byrne’s successor is appointed and is leading the investigation into his resignation, said he has been asked by the pope’s advisers to prepare “an in-depth report into the events leading up to Bishop Byrne’s resignation”.
The Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency (CSSA) last week began an “unscheduled safeguarding audit” at the diocese.
Steve Ashley, the CSSA chief executive officer said the body was independent and had “full autonomy”. He said: “The scope of the investigatory work will cover any reported abuses, alleged abuses, safeguarding concerns and the culture of safeguarding in the diocese as a whole.”
Ashley added: “The scope of the investigatory work will cover any reported abuses, alleged abuses, safeguarding concerns and the culture of safeguarding in the diocese as a whole.”
The former chief prosecutor for the north-west of England, Nazir Afzal, chair of the CSSA, added: “There should be no doubt that we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to keeping people safe, and this includes investigating the safeguarding culture in Hexham and Newcastle.”
The diocese said it voluntarily referred itself to the CSSA and the Charities Commission and it would “continue to work productively and swiftly with both organisations, learning where it needs to, not from rumours and misinformation, but from the facts and evidence provided”.
It added that it “remains fully committed to safeguarding as an integral part of the life and the ministry of the church”.
He served as an altar boy at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Parish in Fort Collins and spent a lot of his free time there with friends, he said. Verti grew very fond of the nuns, priests and deacons he was often around. Everything was fine, he said.
“You know, these were people that God had kind of put in the position of power to lead the whole church towards God,” Verti, 37, said. “So these were people I respected greatly.
Then, when Verti was 14, a new priest, the Rev. Tim Evans, arrived. Evans joined the Fort Collins parish in 1998 after having been ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest in 1993 by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. Verti alleges Evans immediately started “grooming” him for abuse.
According to a lawsuit filed Thursday morning by Verti and his attorneys against the Archdiocese, the Seton parish and Evans, Verti was abused sexually, physically, mentally and emotionally soon after Evans’ arrival at the Fort Collins parish. The lawsuit says the Archdiocese of Denver is complicit in the abuse because it oversees the northern Colorado parish and hired Evans. According to the lawsuit, the Archdiocese was also aware of the abuse Evans inflicted on children, according to the 35-page complaint.
The lawsuit is being filed under the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, which ends the statue of limitations for victims to sue their abusers. The state law went into effect in 2022.
Verti, who now lives in Jefferson County, is seeking $100,000 in damages.
In a statement released Thursday, the Denver Archdiocese said it has not been served with a lawsuit or seen the complaint. It said it does not comment on pending litigation.
“The Archdiocese of Denver cares about all survivors of sexual abuse,” the statement said. It also said its program for “reparations and healing” is confidential, and cannot comment as to Verti’s participation.
Evans is the only priest in Colorado to be tried and convicted of sexual assault since the scandal of widespread abuse in the Catholic Church broke in 2002. The first accusations against Evans came from Jefferson County in 2003, according to a special report released in 2019 by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office.
According to the report, Evans abused three children from 1990 to 1995. He worked at Spirit of Christ Parish in Arvada, Our Lady of Fatima in Lakewood and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Fort Collins.
Evans was charged in three cases in 2005, and a jury found him guilty in 2007. He was released on parole in 2020.
According to Verti’s lawsuit, Evans used his position of power to frighten and manipulate Verti and some of Verti’s friends for more than three years.
Verti worked closely with Evans soon after Evans’ arrival at the parish, Verti said. Verti began serving as a Sacristan, a person responsible for setting up for Mass, supervising altar boys and facilitating communion.
He also assisted priests and deacons during Mass services, the lawsuit states.
As a part of his Sacristan role, Verti spent long hours at the Fort Collins parish on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings where he was alone with Evans, the lawsuit states. During their time together, Evans would, without warning, become enraged. On several occasions, Evans would slap Verti, strike him on his testicles, slap the wall behind Verti’s head, and hit him in the abdomen so hard he would lose his breath, the lawsuit states.
Evans would also penetrate Verti and perform oral sex on him, according to the lawsuit. Verti said he remained quiet at the time due to fear.
“He sexually assaulted me and physically assaulted me more than a hundred times,” Verti said. “He completely stole the innocence from my childhood and really corrupted my adulthood and my adult life moving forward.”
Navigating impact of the abuse
Verti was a lively kid who enjoyed playing football and basketball. He said he played on the USA track and field youth team, and also ran track for Colorado State.
But he suffered in silence and didn’t tell anyone about the abuse he experienced until he shared it with his fiancee when he was 35, he said. His dog, Coco Janelle, has served as a major emotional support for him too, Verti said.
When the abuse started, Verti was diagnosed with chronic insomnia at 14. Soon after, he said he started wetting the bed again because of night terrors. He went on to develop an addiction to opiates that lasted for over a decade, Verti said.
Two years ago, he was reading an article about Evans’ early release from prison. He learned in the story that a new law in Colorado would allow victims the opportunity to hold their abusers and institutions accountable for abuse dating back to 1960, Verti said.
It’s the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, which ends the statute of limitations for survivors to sue their abuser, and allows them to bring a lawsuit against a school district, youth group or other institution that should have known they were putting young participants at risk.
“I saw that as, you know, finally an opportunity to really right this regret that I had always had of not coming forward when I was younger,” Verti said. “It was also just at a time in my life where I’d struggled with addiction throughout most of my adult life.”
Verti said he has now been sober the last two years.
Kurt Zaner, one of Verti’s attorneys from the Zaner Harden Law Firm in Denver, said it was time for Verti’s story to be told.
“For the past four decades, five, six decades, they have gone to great lengths to conceal these types of abuses, to hide in church records, the true nature of the abuse, and to discourage victims from coming out and speaking out against them and seeking accountability.”
History of abuse in the archdiocese
In 2019, an independent review of the Catholic dioceses of Colorado was announced by Denver Archbishop Aquila and Attorney General Phil Weiser.
The report also found that the Colorado Dioceses have often used elusive language to shroud reports and their knowledge of clergy child sex abuse.
Colorado’s Catholic churches voluntarily participated in the review conducted by former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer. No allegations that arose in the records review or investigation were referred to any Colorado district attorney’s office.
In the statement released Thursday, the Denver Archdiocese said it resolved more than 55 claims and paid more than $6 million in reparations through the program set up after that report was released called the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program. It ended in 2020.
— Lebret Indian Residential School was run by the Roman Catholic Church through the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1884 to 1973.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Regina says it stands with the Star Blanket Cree Nation and all those affected by the the recent discovery of human remains on the grounds of the former Lebret Indian Residential School, and it understands that the findings are deeply traumatizing.
The school was one of the first three to open in Canada and was run by the Roman Catholic Church through the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate from 1884 to 1973.
It operated for another 25 years until it closed in 1998.
“It is especially difficult to hear that it is the remains of a child that have been found,” the Catholic Archdiocese of Regina said in a statement. “It is a painful reminder of all the children who did not return home from residential schools.
“Each finding like this can reopen wounds and resurface inter-generational trauma for survivors and loved ones pointing us to the challenges and hurts that remain to be healed.”
An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools over a century in Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report detailed that many experienced emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse.
The school had a reputation for strict religious instruction, strenuous physical labour and physical abuse. Survivors told the commission about extended periods of kneeling, beds being pushed over with kids still on top and slaps across the face. One survivor shared how he saw a fellow student tied to a heat register.
The school often had outbreaks of disease and a high mortality rate, the commission’s report found. Louise Moine wrote about tuberculosis rampaging through the school in her memoir.
“There was a death every month on the girls’ side and some of the boys went also,” Moine wrote.
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a record of 56 student deaths at the school.
Sharon Strongarm, a survivor of the school, held back tears Thursday as she explained how she was taken from her parents. She said she and her siblings had to learn to survive and to forgive.
“They tried to take our spirits away. They tried to take the Indian out of us,” she said. “But thank the Creator we are back here, strong as we will ever be, helping each other.”
The community is looking to expand its search areas and have approval from some nearby landowners to start work in the spring. They are also looking to excavate two unexpected rooms that were located underground during the initial search, project lead Sheldon Poitras said.
Areas for the search were selected after testimonials from former students and elders who witnessed or heard stories of what happened at the residential school about 75 kilometres northeast of Regina.
The jawbone fragment, found last October, was identified by the province’s coroner’s service to be that of a child between the ages of four and six from about 125 years ago. It was not located anywhere near an area that was known to be a graveyard.
“This is physical proof of an unmarked grave,” Poitras said.
Poitras said his team is looking at options, including miniature core drilling to enable DNA testing, to confirm what is there.
He said the area where the school was located makes it difficult to do ground-penetrating radar and they don’t believe all areas of interest are unmarked graves.
The institution was burned down and rebuilt twice.
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said on social media that the “finding of human remains of a very young child at the site of Lebret Residential School is not only a tragic reminder of Canada’s painful history and of the heinous acts that were committed in residential schools, it’s further proof of that.”
Star Blanket Cree Nation Chief Michael Starr said last week it shows the harsh truth of what happened within the walls of the Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School.
“It was unthinkable. It was profound. It was sad. It was hurtful,” Starr said. “And it made us very angry what had happened to our young people here.”
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse. The number is 1-866-925-4419.
Former Catholic school principal Graeme Sleeman says he still remembers the day George Pell hung up on him.
It was the 1990s and Sleeman was in Grafton, New South Wales, more than 1,500km away from the small Victorian Catholic school he had resigned from in disgust years earlier.
He had given up everything – a lauded, successful career as an educator – to blow the whistle on a notorious paedophile priest, Father Peter Searson, who was abusing children at his school, Doveton Holy Family primary school, in the mid-1980s.
The principal had fought tirelessly to protect his children from the predations of Searson, a paedophile he describes as a “serial offender”, who was known to the diocese for offending in his last parish in Sunbury.
“They knew that he sexually abused children in Sunbury and then he was sent to Doveton,” Sleeman said.
He wrote repeatedly to parish and archdiocese officials, warning them of the priest’s sexual advances towards children and his other violent and disturbing conduct, including carrying a gun around the school.
Sleeman’s pleas for action came to naught.
He resigned and was exiled from the Catholic school system. No one would give him another job. He suspects he was blacklisted for his complaints about Searson.
In the following years, his mental health and his family’s financial security both deteriorated badly.
He began to write to Pell, then the archbishop of Melbourne, explaining how the church had treated him and asking for help.
“Can you imagine the inner turmoil and anguish I had to contend with on a daily basis when I had concrete evidence of immoral and dishonest activities being perpetrated by Father Searson and yet no one from the archbishop down would believe me?” he wrote in one letter to Pell, dated March 1998.
Sleeman, who still receives counselling and now lives in a caravan on a property in Queensland, told Pell he had paid an “immeasurable price for my effort and loyalty, and the past 12 years have been like hell”.
After a series of unreturned correspondence, Sleeman’s phone rang, out of the blue.
It was the archbishop.
“He rang me up and he said ‘what do you want?’,” Sleeman told the Guardian. “I said ‘I want you to make a public statement that the stance I took in Doveton was the correct one, I want you to do that in all the national printed media and all the national television and radio’.”
“He said ‘I can’t do that’ and hung up.”
What Sleeman did not know at the time was that Pell, in his former role as auxiliary bishop for Melbourne in the 1980s, knew of a complaint of sexual impropriety by Searson and did not act to investigate it.
The royal commission heard in March 2016 that Pell and other bishops had been briefed about a generalised allegation of sexual misconduct against Searson in 1989.
Pell told the commission he did not act because he thought the Catholic Education Office had dealt with it.
“I didn’t have a belief that I had an investigator capacity or role,” Pell said at the time. “That was a role which I believed primarily in the schools was taken by the Education Office.”
Pell had also been handed a list of incidents and grievances about Searson in 1989, which included reports Searson had abused animals in front of children and was using children’s toilets.
The commission found that “these matters, in combination with the prior allegation of sexual misconduct, ought to have indicated to Bishop Pell that Father Searson needed to be stood down”.
“It was incumbent on Bishop Pell, as an auxiliary bishop with responsibilities for the welfare of the children in the Catholic community of his region, to take such action as he could to advocate that Father Searson be removed or suspended or, at least, that a thorough investigation be undertaken of the allegations,” the findings, released in 2020, said.
During his evidence to the royal commission, Pell conceded he should have been a “bit more pushy” about Searson.
He also said he had thought Sleeman to be a “rude and a difficult person”, but acknowledged that the former principal had been right about Searson.
“What I now know of course is that Sleeman was basically justified,” he told the royal commission.
Searson died in 2009 before facing any child sex charges.
Sleeman is now suing the church, represented by Ken Cush and Associates. His case alleges his ruined career in education was brought about by the church’s inaction on his legitimate complaints about Searson.
His lost career cost him and his family.
“My whole family has suffered from this, including my grandchildren. My nine-year-old said to me the other day, you’re famous. I thought she was referring to my prowess as a footballer, but she wasn’t.”
Between 1984 and 1986, while Sleeman was principal, he said he complained so many times to parish and diocesan officials that they described him as “obsessed”.
“Well, wouldn’t you be?” he told the Guardian.
Sleeman says he spent 99% of his time at the school trying to protect his children from the paedophile priest.
“I used to say to [church officials], ‘I won’t back down because this is little children’,” he said.
“My contract to be a principal says ‘[protect] the safety of children’ and you put the biggest wolf possible into the school. That’s the crazy part.”