Clancy was one of a family of devout Catholics. As a 16-year-old in the late 1960s, he entered a small Catholic order of priests-in-training in Sydney. Over the next two years, he completed his high school education in the monastic environment of the order’s college. Life there was highly regulated, and contact with family and the wider world was minimal.
The director of students was Father Richard. ‘He had pretty well total control over our lives, day and night, everything’, Clancy said.
Clancy recalled him as a charismatic figure. In his late 20s, Father Richard was ‘very self-assured, very superior in his attitude to people. [He] gave the impression of being a man of immense knowledge and benevolence’.
Clancy was a member of the choir and a couple of months into his stay Richard offered to teach him some breathing techniques. These began with Richard putting his hand on Clancy’s diaphragm.
‘After a while his hand would stray down and he’d start gently caressing. I had no idea what going on and I was terribly anxious. He then attempted to arouse me and that didn’t work. I just remember feeling so totally anxious and shaky for quite a while afterwards.’
Clancy wasn’t the only boy invited to Richard’s study. But Richard encouraged him to feel he was the really special one. As well as the lessons in breathing techniques there were long discussions, often about sex. He asked Clancy if he masturbated or had sexual thoughts.
‘He gave the impression he was helping me to deal with issues of sexuality’, Clancy said. These conversations ended with Richard molesting Clancy.
‘I had no words, no concepts to put around what was going on. Priests were elevated. They sat next to the deity and were imbued with eternal goodness. Which makes it an extraordinarily confusing thing to make any sense of.’
The visits to Richard’s study took place two or three times a week for the two years Clancy was at the college. The following year he went to a seminary in Melbourne to continue his theological studies. By coincidence or design Richard was transferred there too, and the abuse continued.
Over the three years that Clancy was molested by Richard, there was only one moment when he came close to disclosing the abuse. He’d had a conversation with some other boys, who had indicated obliquely that they were being molested too. He decided to report Richard to another priest. Just the thought of it made him extremely anxious.
‘I was shaking, and I knocked on this priest’s door and he wasn’t there. And I never tried again’, he told the Commissioner.
‘Probably all along I didn’t want to make accusations, for fear of what the consequences might be. I had this terrible fear I’d be kicked out or something, and disgraced … I couldn’t bear the thought of such disgrace.’
Clancy left the order the following year. He returned to Sydney, enrolled at university and in due course became a health care professional. At first, he didn’t fully understand that what Richard had done was abuse. ‘It was still something you put in a compartment in your mind and didn’t see in the context of things’, he explained. ‘Gradually the penny dropped about what had happened to me.’
In the mid 1990s, Clancy wrote to the order to report his experiences with Richard. He received a call from a representative of the order, who said he’d spoken to Richard, who’d admitted to the abuse. The representative apologised to Clancy, but proposed no further action. No support of any kind was suggested. Clancy had not asked for compensation and none was offered.
‘When I reflected on that later on, I thought it was extraordinary that a young person like myself, and others in their care, could just be disregarded like that. Do they not understand what the implications are for the things that went on inside their organisation?’
Some time afterwards, the representative called Clancy again to tell him Richard had been laicised – discharged from his priestly duties but still given a stipend by the Church. ‘Obviously my complaint was not the first’, Clancy observed.
Some 10 years later, Clancy heard from another ex-seminarian that Richard had taken his own life.
‘What remains for me an overriding concern is the rest of those boys. How come there hasn’t been some attempt to track them down and look after them?’ He suspects that Richard’s abuse has left many casualties. ‘It look a long time for me to come to terms with it and I have tools … Others might not have been so fortunate.’
As far as Clancy knows, there has never been any follow-up by the order. Apart from the verbal apology over the phone he has never been contacted by them.
He told the Commission he would like to know more about what actually happened: what led to Richard being laicised, and to his suicide. And how it came about that he’d been transferred to Africa for a while to work with boys in a monastery, at a time when the order would have been well aware of the danger he posed.
He believes that the complaints about Richard should have been dealt with by the order as a criminal matter. And there should have been a pastoral outreach program put in place to follow up with his victims. Too late for police, but not too late, Clancy believes, for an effort to make amends. ‘They should go public and make a call for people who were affected to come forward.’
Clancy described himself as well-adjusted and happy in life. But the abuse did have an impact.
‘I haven’t suffered depression or alcoholism or drug addiction or anything like that. But personally, where it affected me, was for many years I suffered a lot of anxiety in intimate relationships. In sexual relationships. When I was sexually close to someone, I’d be impotent or have a premature ejaculation or something like that. That went on for a long time … Eventually I twigged. I feel that had quite an impact on my life as a young man.’
He believes children today are possibly less at risk than in his generation. ‘Times have changed. We can talk about it. Back then there were no concepts and no words – there was nothing you could put around this to describe what it was. And so there was silence.’