“Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary” by Tom Rastrelli— Living a Double Life

Rastrelli, Tom. “Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary”, University of Iowa Press, 2020.

Living a Double Life

Amos Lassen

Tom Rastrelli shares  the clandes­tine inner workings of the seminary and gives us an intimate and unapologetic look into the psychosexual and spiritual dynamics of celibacy.  He writes of  the “formation” system that perpetuates the cycle of abuse and cover-up that continues today. 

While at college, he came under the guidance of a charismatic college campus minister as he was trying to reconcile his homosexuality and childhood sexual abuse. He felt called to the priesthood and so be­gan the process of “priestly discernment.” Priests welcomed him into a confusing clerical culture where public displays of piety, celibacy, and homophobia hid a closeted underworld in which elder priests preyed upon young recruits. Rastrelli went deeper into the seminary system seeking healing, hoping to help others, and striving not to live a double life. He had been trained to treat sexuality as an addiction yet he and his brother seminarians lived in a world of cliques, competition, self-loathing, alcohol, hidden crushes, and closeted sex. The “for­mation” intended to make Rastrelli a compliant priest and this what helped to liberate him. By demanding celibacy and damning homosexuality, the Catholic Church condemns its best and brightest priests to lives of hypocrisy and shame. Rastrelli shares his struggle with heart, wit, and courage.

“Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary” lets us know what to expect and it is quite an emotional read.  I became angry at the Church hierarchy that allowed the things described here to continue to go on for decade after decade. Those at the top, the only people who could have possibly stopped the kind of abuse described by Rastrelli, allowed it to continue and covered up for the criminals 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. I am simply unable to understand how anyone can remain a member of the church knowing his. At the beginning of my teaching career, I taught at a Christian Brothers boarding school in Louisiana where the brothers were quite proud of the fact that they had hired a Jew. I will never forget some of the things I saw there going on between the brothers and between some of the brothers and their students. The story finally broke and two of the brothers are now serving life sentences in prison.

This is Rastrelli’s personal story. He was a naïve gay teenager who called to the priesthood. He’s a handsome man, and as a young man he was targeted by an authority figure in his parish church that was eager to take advantage of his confusion about his sexuality and the role of gay men in the Church. Having survived that relationship, Rastrelli was immediately targeted by a mentor-priest of authority at the seminary where he would spend the next four years of his life. During these four years, Rastrelli struggled 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. 

Somehow, Rastrelli managed to survive the seminary experience and become a Catholic priest. Father Rastrelli began to question the hypocrisy of the church elders and came to understand that the corruption and cover-up of the predatory sexual nature of some of his fellow priests came from the top down and went all the way to Rome. He received no support 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 facing a nervous breakdown.
This is a sad story that does not end well for Rastrelli or the Church even though Rastrelli has a new career. What is so infuriating is the way that the church hierarchy continued/continues to hide the sexual abusers in its ranks and create thousands of new victims year after year.  

Rastrelli writes with a commitment to hon­esty understanding about the meaning of faith. I was not shocked about what I read aside from being surprised that Rastrelli has put it down in print.

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