DALLAS, Pennsylvania — Paul and Kristen Ciaccia remember the news that sparked their anger.
In 2013, they learned their sons had served as altar boys with a priest who had just been arrested on charges that he had oral sex with a minor.
“That was the first ‘What?’ moment. My kids were with this priest for a couple years. And I thought ‘Thank God it didn’t happen to any of my kids,’ but as that thought went through my head, I thought ‘Wait a minute, what about these other kids this happened to? Somebody’s got to do something,’” Paul Ciaccia said. “The only way I could think of to make a change, to correct things in the Church, was to talk about it in public.”
Another moment came with the August 2018 release of the attorney general’s grand jury report into sexual abuse of children in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses.
They followed the Catholic Church’s response to sexual abuse scandals that came to light in 2002, but the issue was suddenly back in the news.
The couple decided to take their complaints to a public forum. Earlier this year, they started a podcast. They named it “The Angry Catholic.”
The Ciaccias have discussed all sorts of issues related to the Catholic Church on their show.
In a recent episode, they spoke to Doug Barry, a Catholic speaker whose “Radix — Battle Ready” movement encourages followers to strengthen themselves against the world’s temptations. They have also discussed how church leadership chooses cardinals, preparing for marriage, and the grand jury investigation. They frequently speak with an unnamed priest who goes by the moniker “Father Anonymous” and offers insider perspectives on the discussion topics.
The project gives the Ciaccias the ability to guide the dialogue in a discussion that is important to them. They usually add an episode each week. The podcast is currently offered at their website, and the Ciaccias plan to make it available on other platforms, such as iTunes and iHeartRadio.
The Ciaccias say they are not theologians, journalists or radio professionals.
“I’m just an average Catholic that’s angry about what is going on in the Church and doesn’t know what to do about it,” Paul Ciaccia said.
The Ciaccias have an open letter to Joseph Bambera, Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton, on their website, www.theangrycatholic.com.
They have not been satisfied with the public responses from the diocese or from a letter Bambera wrote in response to their questions regarding specific allegations from the grand jury report and how diocese officials responded.
“You’re getting canned PR statements. We call it ‘Bishop-speak’ now,” said Kristen Ciaccia.
In his letter, Bambera pointed out that he has repeatedly, publicly acknowledged the diocese’s failures in the past, but also said that the organization has continuously improved on the issue in the last 25 years.
He noted in his letter that almost all of the sexual abuse cases in the grand jury report happened before 2002. Since then, the Diocese has implemented policies to address the issue, including contacting law enforcement, sending a letter to the district attorney, suspending the accused pending the completion of an investigation and paying for counseling for victims from mental health professionals with no connection to the diocese. If an investigation corroborates allegations against someone accused of sexual assault, the Diocese notifies the public in person and through the media.
For example, he provided a list of all allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys in counties that are part of the diocese before the grand jury convened.
Bambera also addressed the incidents the Ciaccias asked about in their letter.
“The simple answer to your questions is that, in each case, I did what I could and what I thought was appropriate, based on the information available to me and in keeping with my then-current role in the Diocese. Blessed with hindsight, there are elements of these cases that I would have approached differently. Short of that, however, I acted at all times in good faith and have nothing to hide,” Bamera wrote. “Of course, the Diocese and I remain committed to learning from the past and in creating a better future. I hope that you will join us in this critical task.”
The problem of child sexual abuse is a community issue that requires a community response, read a statement provided by the Diocese of Scranton.
“While often uncomfortable to talk about, we must, because if we don’t, things will never change,” the statement said. “We welcome everyone to join us in the effort to keep the conversation going regarding child protection.”