The Jesuit priest who presided over the inaugural Mass for then President-elect Joe Biden resigned as president of Santa Clara University in California this week after an investigation found he had behaved in a manner “inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”
John Sobrato, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, confirmed in a statement Wednesday that Rev. Kevin O’Brien had offered his resignation Sunday and the board had accepted it the following day.
Sobrato added that a probe by the Jesuits’ USA West Province confirmed that O’Brien had engaged in inappropriate behavior, “consisting primarily of conversations, during a series of informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students.”
The chairman’s letter went on to say that “alcohol was involved” and that the investigation did not find any inappropriate behavior by O’Brien outside of the dinner settings. O’Brien had been placed on leave when the investigation began in March.
O’Brien has been directed by the Jesuits to begin a “four-to-six-month therapeutic outpatient program … to address related personal issues, including alcohol and stress counseling,” according to Sobrato.
In a letter of his own that was published Wednesday by the San Jose Mercury News, O’Brien said that once his treatment is complete, he expects to “return to active ministry as a Jesuit priest, but … it will not be at Santa Clara as president.”
O’Brien did not detail his conduct in the letter, describing it only as “behavior over the past year in certain social settings with adults that did not meet the highest standards of decorum expected of me as a Jesuit.”
On Inauguration Day, O’Brien officiated and gave the homily at the morning Mass attended by the Bidens at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. In a tweet, O’Brien described the president and first lady as “friends of [approximately] 15 years.”
O’Brien joined the Jesuits in 1996 and was ordained as a priest in 2006. He worked for eight years at Georgetown University before becoming dean of Santa Clara’s theology school in 2016. He was selected as university president in 2019.
“This is a challenging time for Santa Clara, but Fr. O’Brien has shown both generosity and freedom in wanting to do what is best for the university,” said the Rev. Scott Santarosa, head of the Jesuits West Province, in a statement. “With care for the faculty, staff, students and entire Santa Clara community, he has decided to step down.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, on Wednesday called for the Jesuits to broaden the investigation to other places O’Brien previously worked, including Georgetown, to see if other students would come forward.
“SNAP is alarmed with the limited amount of information that has been provided about the case and wants to see the probe expanded,” the statement said.
Santa Clara, founded in 1851 as the first Jesuit university in the West, is ranked as one of the top 25 schools for undergraduate teaching nationwide. California Govs. Gavin Newsom and Jerry Brown are among its alumni.
With Post wires