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Inappropriate Behavior Cited in Resignation of Santa Clara U. President

A Jesuit priest who delivered the homily at a Mass for the inauguration of President Biden has resigned as the president of Santa Clara University after he engaged in inappropriate behavior, university officials said on Wednesday.

An investigation by the Jesuits West Province found that the priest, the Rev. Kevin O’Brien, “engaged in behaviors, consisting primarily of conversations, during a series of informal dinners with Jesuit graduate students that were inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries,” the chairman of the university’s board of trustees said in a statement to the university community.

“The Province also advised the Board that alcohol was involved and that no inappropriate behavior was found in any settings outside of these dinners,” the statement said.

The statement, which did not elaborate further on the behavior, said that Father O’Brien, who had been placed on leave in March, notified the board of trustees that he was resigning on Sunday, and that the board accepted his resignation on Monday.

“The Board of Trustees takes this situation very seriously and fully supports those who came forward to provide their accounts,” said the statement from the board chairman, John M. Sobrato.

Mr. Sobrato said the province had directed Father O’Brien to remain on leave and to enroll in a four- to six-month “therapeutic outpatient program, which he has now begun, to address related personal issues, including alcohol and stress counseling.”

Father O’Brien could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday night.

A former practicing lawyer who was ordained to the priesthood in 2006, Father O’Brien had served as dean of Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology since 2016 and was named president of the Jesuit university in 2019. Before that, he had served for eight years at Georgetown University, including five years as vice president for mission and ministry, according to Santa Clara University.

Father O’Brien has also served on the boards of four Jesuit universities: Fordham University, Seattle University, Marquette University and Boston College, according to his biography at Santa Clara University.

On Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, he celebrated a Roman Catholic Mass for President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and congressional leaders at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. Father O’Brien had been friends with the Biden family for nearly 15 years, since serving at Georgetown University, according to the Jesuits.

In his homily, Father O’Brien compared Mr. Biden’s upcoming inaugural message to the words of Jesus.

“Your public service is animated by the same conviction,” he said, “to help and protect people and to advance justice and reconciliation, especially for those who are too often looked over and left behind.”

The Rev. Scott Santarosa, provincial of the Jesuits West, said that the university and Father O’Brien were “in our prayers during this time of transition.”

“This is a challenging time for Santa Clara, but Father O’Brien has shown both generosity and freedom in wanting to do what is best for the university,” Father Santarosa said in a statement. “With care for the faculty, staff, students and entire Santa Clara community, he has decided to step down.”

Mr. Sobrato said that while the board begins the process of searching for a new president, Lisa Kloppenberg, the university provost, would continue to serve as acting president, a role she assumed in March after Father O’Brien was placed on leave. At the time, Mr. Sobrato said that Father O’Brien had agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation.

“I realize that a development like this can bring up many feelings — I humbly ask everyone to give each other grace and space as we collectively absorb the news of Father O’Brien’s resignation,” Ms. Kloppenberg wrote in a message to the university community on Wednesday. “I am grateful that you will stay focused on your responsibilities to our students, other stakeholders and each other as we finish out this academic year and continue preparations for a return to campus in the fall.”

Azi Paybarah contributed reporting.

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