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Tom Rastrelli

“It’s not lying if the person asking doesn’t have a right to the truth.” These were the words I was to live by as a Catholic priest, words learned at the hands of my seminary mentor and that undergirded my archbishop’s command to protect my priestly abuser. Before my escape, I learned that many holy men don’t comprehend that sex with children is a crime, celibacy is a myth, and powerful clerics will stop at nothing to silence those who speak the truth.

I should have been an actor. My mom was an elementary school music teacher, and musical theatre was my first love. Scratch that. The planets were. Before I could read, I’d let my imagination roam as I studied the multicolored drawings of distant worlds in my favorite book, The Stars, that sat on a musty shelf behind my Grandma Rastrelli’s front door. It had been my dad’s favorite book in his youth, but like his Italian immigrant father and older brothers, he ended up working in the family business, Rastrelli’s Family Restaurant, in Clinton, Iowa.

After a childhood of glamorous jobs at the restaurant, like scraping petrified gum from the tables’ underbellies, washing dishes, and wearing a bunny costume while greeting our Easter customers, I discovered the stage. In high school, I was the quintessential overachiever doing whatever I could to bury the shame of having been sexually abused by a trusted adult.  I studied theatre at the University of Northern Iowa but quickly succumbed to depression as my secret wounds festered. I found solace in the Catholic Church where a charismatic campus pastor and his buddies recruited me into the priesthood. My entry into this rabbit hole, this cult of clerics, is where Confessions of a Gay Priest begins. 

After graduating with my theatre degree in 1996, I studied philosophy and religious studies at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, before completing my graduate work at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, the oldest Catholic seminary in the United States, derided by the conservative Catholics of the time as “the Pink Palace.” There, the priestly “formation” that was supposed to make me a compliant priest ultimately armed me with the psychological tools to accept my gayness. 

In the midst of the 2002 sexual abuse scandal, I was ordained a priest. I came out of the closet and left the church in 2004. After a residency at the Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada — a house of healing for ministers who’d been depleted by their churches and the demands of ministry, I moved to the North Cascades of Washington, where in 2005, I began writing the first draft of what evolved into Confessions. I came out of the closet, again, only this time as an atheist. 

I took my manuscript and screenplays to Los Angeles, where while singing in the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, I met my husband Bruce, a music teacher and conductor like my mother. When the writers' strike and Great Recession hit, I went through a long bout of unemployment. Eventually, I returned to a different kind of ministry working as an HIV-test counselor and research assistant in a study of behavioral interventions to prevent HIV-infection in men who bareback with men while high on meth. But my longing to write and perform intensified. I enrolled at the University of Southern California earning a Master of Professional Writing in 2011.

Shortly thereafter, Bruce and I married and moved to Salem, Oregon. For three years, I freelanced while trying to sell my memoir. In my spare time, I acted at a local theatre, eradicated invasive species, played poker, hiked, and tried to be a fabulous uncle to my nieces and nephews. I landed a gig as the arts and culture reporter at the Statesman Journal, a Gannet newspaper, before becoming director of digital communications at Willamette University, where I work today. After two agents and many failed attempts to find a press for my memoir, I quit. When Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, DC, was exposed for abusing seminarians in early 2019, the press began covering stories like mine. I tried again, and thanks to the University of Iowa Press, the memoir’s 16-year gestation has come to fruition. 

Thank you for taking the time to read Confessions of a Gay Priest. It is my truth. In telling our stories and sharing our truths, as painful as they may be, we can find freedom, empathy, wisdom, and power. I hope my story provides you some of this. If you are also a survivor of abuse, I hope that my truth brings you strength and healing. We are not alone.

About: About Me


April 15, 2020

Purchase Confessions of a Gay Priest at University of Iowa Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and by preordering at your local independent bookstore. 

Update 4/9/2020: In light of the pandemic, the press has halted distribution. Many sellers are canceling orders. My best advice is to order the electronic version or, if like me you prefer paperback, order directly from University of Iowa Press via the button below. When distribution resumes, you'll be first in line. 

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