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Head of Santa Clara University on leave as alleged misconduct investigated
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Jesuit Father Kevin O’Brien, president of California’s Santa Clara University, has been placed on leave while his Jesuit province investigates reports of his alleged misconduct.
The priest, 54, celebrated Mass on Inauguration Day, prior to the official Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington attended by now-President Joe Biden and now-Vice President Kamala Harris, along with their family members and other political leaders.
A message emailed to the university community March 18 from John M. Sobrato, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said the university president had allegedly “exhibited behaviors in adult settings, consisting primarily of conversations, which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”
Sobrato did not specify what the allegations were but said Father O’Brien “has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation and honor the process that he affirms annually as part of his ongoing Jesuit training.”
The investigation is being conducted by officials with the order’s Jesuits West province, which includes Arizona, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
In his message, Sobrato said the board first learned of these allegations March 16 and that it “takes these accounts seriously” and supports “those who came forward to share their accounts.”
But he also pointed out that the board members “fully respect Father O’Brien’s right to a fair and impartial investigation, and we appreciate his strong belief that any complaints involving him should be held to the highest standard and carefully and independently investigated.”
Sobrato said transparency and accountability have been hallmarks of the president’s tenure and he “insists that they must apply, especially now.”
A graduate of Jesuit-run Santa Clara University, Sobrato said the trustees “will not be providing interim updates, but will communicate the final results of the investigation.” In the meantime, he asked the school community to “allow the investigation to run its course.”
For now, the university’s provost, Lisa Kloppenberg, has been appointed as acting president and other university officials will take on extra responsibilities.
Tracey Primrose, spokeswoman for Jesuits West, told The Mercury News daily newspaper that she could not provide details of the allegations because of the group’s confidentiality practices, saying only: “Jesuits are held to a professional code of conduct, and the province investigates allegations that may violate or compromise established boundaries.”
Father O’Brien has been university president since 2019 after he was dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University for two years. Before that he was at Georgetown University, where he was executive director of campus ministry and then vice president for mission and ministry.
He also was associate pastor at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, where the Bidens have attended Mass and continue to so.
The priest was described as a family friend of the Bidens when he was chosen to celebrate the Inauguration Day Mass.
In his homily that day, he said: “This day, when we emphasize national unity, we welcome people of all faith traditions and all political preferences, for we are all sons and daughters of God and we all need to say thank you to the God who has been so, so good to us and to our country. And we also need to rely on God’s help, God’s encouragement.”