HOW DOES a former altar boy from Delaware County who now heads the U.S. Secret Service address the host of concerns from Philadelphians about the strict security measures surrounding Pope Francis' upcoming visit?

With a sports metaphor, obviously.

"You have to have structure," U.S. Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy said. "If you're a Phillies fan or an Eagles fan, when you go to the ballpark the first thing you do is you drive into a parking lot that's fenced in . . . and then you go from your fenced-in parking lot to the fenced-in ballpark.

"Once you get into the ballpark where you go through a narrow entrance, then you go to the seating area where it's divided as well, and it provides structure," he said. "That's the same way here with the pope's visit."

In an interview with the Daily News yesterday, Clancy talked about the security surrounding Pope Francis' first visit to the United States.

However, he declined to offer details about a comment made by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, that the Secret Service had told McCaul it had already "disrupted" a threat made against the pope during his visit to the U.S.

"I can't talk about it, the case specifically . . . but I will tell you that we are confident that we have a very secure plan, certainly here in Philadelphia as we do in New York and Washington," Clancy said. "I won't say what the level of threat is for the Holy Father."

Oct. 1 will mark Clancy's one-year tenure as director of the Secret Service, and this month may prove to be his most challenging yet.

All three stops on Pope Francis' North American tour - Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York City - have been designated National Special Security Events, which means that the Secret Service has the "authority and responsibility to design and implement the security plan" for each destination, Clancy said.

On top of that, at the same time Pope Francis is visiting the U.S., the 70th anniversary of the United Nations' General Assembly, which is also an NSSE event, is taking place in New York City and the Secret Service is responsible for providing security to more than 160 heads of state for that.

But Clancy's not fazed. In yesterday's interview at the federal building on Arch Street near 6th, he was calm, careful, confident and focused.

"It's a tremendous responsibility for every member of the Secret Service, and that's how we look at it," he said. "It's not a time to enjoy, relax [and] take it all in. It's really a time to ensure that we don't miss anything."

In Philadelphia, Clancy said the Secret Service has set up more than 20 subcommittees, each with a unique area of focus, such as crowd management, intelligence and transportation. He said about 20 federal, local, state and private-sector representatives sit on each committee.

"We obviously can't do this by ourselves," Clancy said. "So we listen to everyone's expertise."

Clancy said he has a good working relationship with Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who he said is "very innovative," and with Mayor Nutter, who he said has shown "steady" leadership.

"I had a meeting with Commissioner Ramsey and Mayor Nutter on Friday. We had a very pleasant meeting . . . we went into some details to ensure that we're on the same page," Clancy said. "I think we're in a very good spot."

When asked about comments by Nutter that the city hasn't been able to release information about the papal visit in a timely manner because of the Secret Service, Clancy said that "everyone has a different view of how things should be accomplished."

"It is like any family, you're going to have disagreements," he said. "But we communicate all the time and I think as long as you keep communicating, you're going to be successful."

Clancy said he is well-aware of the backlash his agency and the city have faced from Philadelphians who are so frustrated by security measures that they've taken to calling the papal visit everything from Popenado to the Popepocalypse.

Among those frustrations are that major routes to the city - like the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and Interstate 76 - will be closed to vehicular traffic during the visit, as will a more than 3-square-mile area of Center City.

"You have to provide some structure so that, from a security standpoint, if we need to get the pope out of an area quickly, we're not blocked in," Clancy said of the criticism. "Without structure, there could be mayhem."

But other places Pope Francis has visited, including the Philippines and South America, have not had such security and still managed to get the pope out alive.

"We don't take risks lightly. . . . We don't leave things to chance," Clancy said. "You may have seen some footage of the pope in some other countries where he is completely surrounded and it's hard to move the vehicle. We can't allow that."

Clancy said his agency has conducted an "unprecedented" outreach program to businesses in the affected areas, with more than 70 agents visiting more than 500 businesses.

When it comes to Pope Francis, who is known to stray from the beaten path to meet with common people, Clancy said he traveled to the Vatican and met with security there and witnessed the pope's interaction with crowds.

"Certainly, it's a challenge but I will tell you that every protectee has unique desires or things that challenge us, and the pope is no different," Clancy said. "He wants to be among the people, and we certainly understand that, so it's our job to be adaptive."

During the papal weekend, Clancy said, there will be a "pretty obvious police presence" in Center City, including counter-snipers on rooftops and bomb-sniffing dogs.

"They're there just to make sure that everyone can enjoy the day in a safe and secure manner," he said.

Clancy, 59, was appointed as head of the Secret Service by President Obama after the former director resigned last year following several security breaches and missteps involving agents.

Clancy, a married father of four, had retired from the Secret Service in 2011 after a long and successful career with the agency.

He was working as executive director of cable security for Comcast when he received the call from Obama to head up the Secret Service.

"I was very surprised, I certainly didn't expect it," Clancy said. "It's certainly very humbling . . . the president has always been very good to me and if he felt I could do something to help, I was more than happy to help."

The Havertown native also has a storied history with the Catholic Church. He was a member of St. Denis parish, an altar boy and a 1973 graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School.

Clancy then went on to West Point and later transferred to Villanova. After graduation, he worked as a teacher for four years at the former Bishop Kenrick High School in Norristown and then for a year at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, before following his dream of becoming a Secret Service agent.

So is this Delco boy astonished that he's now heading security for the president and the pope?

Not even close.

"Honestly, I don't think about it so much. To me, it's business, it's protecting a protectee," Clancy said. "Maybe years later, when I'm in a rocking chair, I'll reflect back on this, but to be honest, right now, it's business."

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