Host of SiriusXM Radio’s “The Catholic Guy,” Lino Rulli is the author of the recently released Sinner, a series of autobiographical essays in which he shares his unique experiences as an organ-grinder’s monkey substitute, a three-time Emmy winner, a commitment-phobe, and a not-quite-sin-free Catholic who earnestly strives to follow the teachings of the church. Recently he took some time to speak with Catholic Exchange about his book, his work, and his faith.
Q. You have had so many varied experiences, from meeting the Pope to teaching in the Bahamas to chatting with OJ Simpson. One reviewer noted that some of your experiences—like assisting your dad in his career as an organ grinder—are so “out there” that, at first, he thought you were just being funny.
A. My spiritual director asked the same thing: “Now, what do you mean? Is that real?” Yeah, that’s real; there’s a picture in there. “I don’t understand what you mean. Why is he an organ grinder?” (That’s the question? “Why is he an organ grinder?”) Even though it’s real, people go, “Did that really happen?”
Who else has had this many strange, opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum experiences? I think everyone has, really. If you think about it, you’ll say, “I’ve had a wild life.” (Maybe not an organ-grinder life.)
Q. How did you decide which stories to include in the book?
A. I started writing as many chapters as I could possibly think of—things that were risqué but wouldn’t get me excommunicated (that was an important thing!)—and really just narrowed it down. For instance, I wrote a lot of stories about dating and women; then I thought, “We’ve already got a few in there; let’s take the most representative and go in that direction.”
I took the stories I thought would represent who I am, what I hope people can relate to when it comes to life, when it comes to sin, when it comes to struggles, and find, as strange as my stories are, a piece of yourself in each of the stories.
I feel like I’m writing to me about 20 years ago: a guy who was raised Catholic, wasn’t opposed to the Catholic Church for any intellectual reason, but didn’t necessarily go to church. I picked the stories I thought I would have liked to have read, what would have attracted me to Catholicism—the stories that would have spoken to me.
Q. You have a little bit of instruction sprinkled throughout your escapades—tidbits about what happens in Confession, for instance. Are you hoping your readers will include a lot of non-Catholics?
A. Nobody ever wants to say, “I hope this group doesn’t read my book.” Nobody wants to limit sales! But the book is not a call to action; people have actually been annoyed I haven’t called people to more action. I just thought you’d find it interesting what us Catholics are up to in the confessional, what us Catholics believe about this that or the other.
The Confession chapters are an example where I didn’t want to go heavy and give the scriptural basis for going to Confession, but at same time, give you an idea, this is what we do in Confession. I’m not telling you to go; I’m telling you that I go
I didn’t write a theological book, a book that explains all about Catholicism. This is broad strokes: here’s what my life as a Catholic is like, the failures. I think most people can relate to the idea of falling short of who we want to be.
Q. Speaking of Confession—you admit to a lot of interesting experiences in the book. Was it tough to write some of these chapters, like the one where the doctor mistakenly diagnoses you with a sexually transmitted disease?
A. Writing is the easiest thing; I’m just telling myself a story that I already know. But this stuff is on permanent record now! My mom, my dad, my friends [can read it]. The doctor story might be easy for my friends to read—they already knew about it—but there are other stories, like about not having sex with my girlfriend, and even the prostitute story, where people might go, “Really? You’re a weirdo.”
I want you to like me; I want you to think I’m a good guy, a funny guy, a Catholic guy. I want so desperately for the world to think these positive things about me. We’re all that way, but we’re walking around living little lies. I’m no hero by being honest—I need to be honest for my own sake. I don’t want anyone ever looking at me and thinking, “He’s Catholic? He’s a hypocrite! He says he believes one thing and he does other things in his life.” A lot of people write off religion because they think it’s hypocritical. I’m a hypocrite—but I’m still trying. How about you?
I think the honesty makes other people cringe more than it makes me cringe. This is the direction that we need to go: I need to know that you’re not perfect; I need to know the priest isn’t perfect, I need to know the bishop isn’t perfect, I need to know the people next to me aren’t perfect. I’m a part of a church of people struggling to be perfect, and I’m not the only one that isn’t.
Q. There’s a good title for the sequel: Hypocrite.
A. I’ve thought about it!
Q. Throughout the dating stories in the book, you point out that you’re commitment-phobic; then in the Introduction, you say that you want to be a more faithful Catholic, but you’re afraid you’ll fail. Are you commitment-phobic about your faith, too?
A. You make a commitment, that’s what can hurt you the most. Give your life to God and things don’t go “your way,” you feel like God has hurt you. “Hey, I made a commitment to you, why aren’t things going the way I want in this relationship? Now I’m more afraid of commitment than ever.”
My commitment to God is probably the only commitment I’ve made in my life that has lasted many years. If I can’t commit to the creator of the universe, how can I commit to some woman I meet in a bar?
Q. And speaking of women—are you hoping some dates might result from the release of this book?
A. I think a woman would have to be insane to want to go out with me after reading this. I’m afraid this is not going to exactly be a date-magnet. I’m not going to count on that coming through.
Q. So then what is your goal with the book?
A. As strange as this sounds, I’m not trying necessarily to sell books—I really do think it’s a great book for somebody who was raised Catholic and really isn’t into it right now. The advance was very nice, [but] I’m not trying to sell this book because I need to make money on it—I really don’t.
I got a phone call from a friend of mine over the weekend—someone close to him who doesn’t go to church anymore read the book. She told him, “I’m not going to say this book is going to make me go back to church—but it’s going to make me think about it.” To me, that’s a win.
“The Catholic Guy” airs 4-7 p.m. EST on SiriusXM 129. You can order Sinner here.