In his new memoir, the incredibly talented actor and singer Andrew Rannells, perhaps best known for his Tony-nominated performance as Elder Price in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, writes about being sexually assaulted by a priest as a teenager.
An excerpt from the book published in Vulture called “It’s Never the Priest You Want to Kiss” details Rannells’s time as an altar boy at Creighton Prep in Omaha during which he struggled to come to terms with his own sexuality. Rannells writes that the face-to-face setup for confession provided a forced intimacy that allowed for unwanted physical contact:
“Priests would set up two chairs close to each other in various darkened corners of the quad, turn on music at a low volume to muddle the sound of confessions, and then you would basically just get right up in a priest’s face and whisper your sins. Sometimes he would close his eyes and grab the back of your neck firmly while you confessed. It seemed very ‘Roman Wrestler’ at the time, but looking back it was also very ‘Abusive Pimp.’ I waited in line to talk with Father Dominic, who was popular for confessions. I told myself that he was going to be helpful, that this was my best option.”
Rannells also describes the way Father Dominic abused him under the guise of offering comfort, making the sign of the cross on his head after forcibly kissing him:
“I sat across from him in a dark corner, our knees touching. He grabbed my neck, as expected, and I started to talk. I started to try to explain what was happening with me, but I couldn’t make the words come out right. Instead, I started to cry. I was so embarrassed. Father Dominic squeezed my neck harder, and he grabbed both my hands with his free hand. His hands were like baseball mitts. We just sat there while I cried. He finally said, ‘It’s okay. You’ve done nothing wrong.’ It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it still felt nice. He stood up and pulled me up with him. He hugged me tightly. I felt safe and heard and understood. Then, with unexpected force, he kissed me. On the lips. He muscled his tongue into my mouth and held the back of my head still. Then he released me and made the sign of the cross on my forehead. He smiled.”
The incident at confession wasn’t the only time Father Dominic assaulted Rannells. He writes that the priest kissed him a second time at a barbecue given in celebration of his high school graduation:
“We stood at my parents’ front door and said our good-byes for the final time, and then he grabbed me by the back of the neck and forced his tongue in my mouth,” Rannells writes. “I just stood there and let him. I didn’t kiss back, but I also didn’t move. He smiled at me and walked to his car. I went into our kitchen and slammed a glass of wine before going back out to the party.”
Rannells’s story comes at a time when the Catholic church has been in the news yet again for its response (or lack thereof) to sex abuse allegations. In February, news broke that Australian Cardinal George Pell was convicted of child sex abuse and that same month, the Vatican held its first-ever, centuries overdue, summit on the issue. However the church’s official position still seems to be “love the sinner hate the sin,” which doesn’t do much by way of forcing abusers to take responsibility for the suffering they inflict.