As a child, Clarence knew Brother Hector Saunders, the principal of his Sydney Catholic boys’ school, to be a violent man who often punished his students.
One day, in the early 1960s, when Saunders found nine-year old Clarence outside his classroom, he yelled at him and gave him the strap. He later called Clarence up in front of assembly, and announced that he had been disobedient. Clarence was mortified. He couldn’t understand why he was in the wrong.
After assembly, Saunders confused Clarence even further by pushing him inside a store room and telling him to “get undressed”.
‘I’m standing there naked. He was holding the strap … He’s saying to me “Get down on your knees and bend over” … He started giving me hits on my ass with the strap, one after the other, after the other. I was screaming.’
Saunders repeatedly told Clarence that he was useless, and would never amount to anything. Thinking the beating would never stop, Clarence managed to crawl under a desk, but Saunders wouldn’t have it. Still hitting Clarence, the Brother pulled him out from under the table.
Clarence looked up. Saunders was holding and rubbing his own genitals. Clarence had no idea what this meant, and thought that Sanders must have hurt himself. Clarence was scared, and screamed for help. No one came.
Clarence went home that night in shock. He wanted to tell someone what had happened, but didn’t think anyone would believe him, especially his Catholic family who’d never expect nuns or Brothers to do anything wrong. However, his mother noticed that something was up.
‘Mum got it out of me. I came home from school … I went into the shower, I was there for two hours. She came into the shower and saw all the marks on my back.’
Clarence couldn’t bear to tell his mother about Saunders, so he told her that he’d gotten into a fight with another student. Sure that his father would belt him if he knew, Clarence didn’t speak of the abuse for a very long time.
Back at school, Clarence wanted nothing to do with Saunders, and avoided him. In the late 60s, after he left school and joined the defence force, he was unable to quell the increasing anger he felt towards Saunders. He wanted to hurt the Brother, and make him pay for his actions.
As an adult, Clarence often had nightmares about the abuse. He believed he was never good enough because of what Saunders told him, and turned to alcohol and cigarettes for comfort.
In the late 1970s, Clarence was considering hurting Saunders. He knew that this was wrong, so he went to confession to disclose his thoughts and the abuse he had endured. Clarence was told to get out because he was lying. ‘A Christian Brother would never act like that’, the priest said.
To have his first disclosure shunned by the Catholic Church shocked and hurt Clarence. He said nothing more about the abuse until the early 1990s when he discovered that Saunders was being ordained as a priest in a different town, and confronted him.
‘He was washing up a chalice in the sacristy and he turned and saw me standing at the door. He said, “Hello”, and I said, “Do you remember little Clarence Jim?” He went white. He recognised me straight away.’
‘All he said was, “How’s your father?”… I said “I’ll never forget what you’ve done to me” and I walked out of the church … He looks after drunken men and little boys … I couldn’t believe that this man was about to be ordained to become a priest.’
Clarence then sought counselling, and obtained assistance from the defence force. He wrote to Saunders who surprisingly replied to many of his letters.
Clarence agreed to meet Saunders in the company of the archbishop. ‘He said sorry, but he didn’t elaborate’, Clarence said. ‘The Christian in me forgave him, but it felt forced.’
Clarence was expected to forgive Saunders, but oddly, was not advised to report the abuse to the police. He didn’t get much out of the actual meeting, but it did motivate him to give up cigarettes and alcohol, and want to start afresh.
Clarence came to the Royal Commission to have his story heard and believed. He hopes coming forward will motivate other people who have yet to disclose their abuse. Clarence also hopes that no child goes through what he did.
‘I’m still tense because it’s still heavy duty stuff. But I feel better that there’s something going to be reported about it all.’