Saturday, February 01, 2020

Confessions of a Gay Priest - Tom Rastrelli


Tom Rastrelli’s Confessions of a Gay Priest might just be the most painfully difficult book to read  that I’ve finished in my entire life. I realize that sounds like an exaggeration, but believe me, it’s not. And it’s not Rastrelli’s style or writing ability that made this one so hard for me to stomach, it’s what the book is about. The book’s subtitle (A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary) accurately warns readers of what’s inside, but even then I thought I could maintain an emotional detachment while reading it. That did not happen. Instead, I found myself growing angrier and angrier at the Church hierarchy that allowed the things described in Confessions of a Gay Priest to go on for decade after decade. And not only did those at the top, the only people who could have possibly stopped the kind of abuse described by Rastrelli, allow it to continue, they covered up for the criminals in their midst by transferring them from parish to parish or seminary to seminary every time it appeared that the truth was in any danger of being exposed.

This is Tom Rastrelli’s personal story, the story of a rather na├»ve gay teenager who felt a calling to the priesthood. Rastrelli is a handsome man, and as a young man he was eagerly targeted by an authority figure in his parish church eager to take advantage of his confusion about his sexuality and the role of gay men in the Church. Then, having survived (for the time being at least) that relationship, Rastrelli was immediately targeted by a mentor-priest of authority at the seminary in which he would spend the next four years of his life. These would be four years during which Rastrelli would struggle to live up to the Church’s celibacy requirement while being sexually abused and exploited by some of the very people responsible for his physical and mental well-being as a seminarian.

Tom Rastrelli
But somehow, Rastrelli did manage to survive the seminary experience and become a Catholic priest. Probably because he was older and a bit wiser, the new Father Rastrelli  began to question the hypocrisy of the church elders and came to the realization that the corruption and cover-up of the predatory sexual nature of some of his fellow priests went all the way to the top – all the way, in fact, to Rome. The lack of support he received from his Archbishop when he exposed what he had witnessed and what happened to him personally, Rastrelli’s desperate cry for help, left him suicidal and on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Tom Rastrelli’s story is a sad one, and it does not really end well for Rastrelli or the Church even though Rastrelli has now found a second career for himself. Rastrelli ended up a disillusioned man and the Church lost a talented priest. That’s a lose-lose proposition. The thing that still infuriates me (as a lifelong Catholic who has come to feel cheated of his faith in the Church) is the way that the church hierarchy continued/continues to hide the sexual abusers in its ranks, in effect creating thousands of  new victims year after year of the kind of abuse that should have been stopped decades and decades ago.

Bottom Line: Nothing in Confessions of a Gay Priest particularly surprised me. What the book did do, is confirm my worst fears and, as a consequence, I sometimes found myself struggling to begin the next chapter. Rastrelli is a frank writer who does not pull any punches here. I hope that the right people read this book and that they are moved to help make sure that this kind of thing is not allowed to happen anymore. But somehow, I doubt that that will happen.

6 comments:

  1. We watched the movie, Spotlight, the Catholic Church coverup scandal uncovered by the Boston Globe...have you seen it? So well done IMO. I 'm not sure this memoir would interest me.

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    1. I did see that movie, Diane, and found it both infuriating and upsetting. This memoir is definitely not going to be for everyone, but I HAD to read it.

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  2. This memoir sounds a little too painful and raw. There are so many sad stories in the world, aren't there? I'm glad Rastrelli found a way to survive his.

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    1. Very painful and very raw, Lark. It's not an easy read for a lot of reasons, but I hope it does some good in the long run.

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  3. It is the hypocrisy of the Church that appalls me. And not just the Catholic Church. Sexual abuse by religious leaders sickens me.

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    1. Same here, Jenclair. It was my disgust and anger at the cover-up that followed these revelations that made me read the book.

      You're right about it being a widespread problem. The Houston Chronicle recently ran a series on churches under the Southern Baptist umbrella and exposed hundreds of preachers guilty of the same practice. The only difference was that the victim was more often female than is the case in the Catholic Church scandals.

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