Len grew up on a farm in Victoria and in the 1970s followed his elder brother, Pat, to board at a Jesuit college. Len said Father Barclay was called names by the boys because he was always trying to touch them. The priest was in charge of an athletics team and would massage boys’ thighs up to their buttocks, telling them he was assessing their potential.
Barclay’s room adjoined the junior school dormitory and Len saw him come in after lights out and sexually abuse one of his classmates. ‘I asked what Barclay had done and he said, “He grabbed my dick”.’ Len said Barclay had once tried to rub up against him and he’d told him to ‘piss off’.
Len told the Commissioner that he joined the Jesuits in the 1970s at the age of 21. During his novitiate he told his Provincial Superior about his and other boys’ experiences with Barclay as children. ‘It was on my conscience, that I’d done something about him when
I was a kid and hadn’t done anything since. The Provincial just nodded. There was no surprise or response; he didn’t say anything.’
In addition to vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Len said, the Jesuits took an additional vow of obedience to papal authority. ‘The Provincial was the Pope’s representative, so his word was the Pope’s, which was the same as Jesus talking to you. He was the highest authority, greater than any legal and moral power.’ A new Provincial spoke at a meeting of priests and seminarians and told them that he’d been dealing with a lot of child sex abuse complaints against priests.
‘He said that if we were accused of anything, we weren’t to make any admissions and should refer the matter to him. He said if we made an admission it was possible we wouldn’t be covered by the Church’s insurer.’
A year or so later, another priest told Len to let his brother know that Barclay was no longer allowed to teach sport. Len thought it an odd comment as he’d never referred to either Barclay or his brother before. He surmised later that Pat had been sexually abused by Barclay while a boarder and had made a complaint about him. In the late 1980s, Len rang Barclay to confront him about the sexual abuse. ‘He said, “I don’t know anything about this”. All he would say was that he was deeply unhappy during his time at the school.’
After Len’s initial disclosure he raised the matter with a third Provincial, in the late 1990s, when Len was making plans to leave the seminary. Len said to him, ‘I want you to know I’m not leaving because of my experience with Barclay as a boy’. The Provincial didn’t know what he was talking about, and told him that their discussion was only about him leaving the seminary.
‘He said that if I wanted to talk about Barclay, I’d have to make another appointment. I just thought, “You’re all mad”, and I left.’
Len knew that a detailed file was kept on every priest and seminarian, and he didn’t know if his previous report had been documented.
‘I think they made a deliberate decision not to write anything down, so there could be no trouble about it later.’
Len told the Commissioner that the Catholic Church often responded to child sexual abuse reports by painting a portrait of the accusers as enemies of the Church. He thought this was also why allegations were never followed up. ‘I think people who aren’t supportive of the Church wouldn’t be drawn into the abuser’s web. It’s the children from families who are most trusting and faithful that are the most vulnerable.’