What led to the resignation of the president of the University of Santa Clara?
SANTA CLARA – From Reverend Kevin O’Brien’s leave two months ago to his astonishing resignation this week as president of the University of Santa Clara, school officials have informed the campus community through formal letters dark and serious – and absolutely lacking in explanation.
With little information, except that O’Brien’s fall involved “mostly conversations” with Jesuit students, confusion and conspiracy theories spread across the Catholic campus, leaving people to sympathize with or slander the Jesuit priest. age 54 who was widely admired on campus.
“A lot of people think this guy’s career has been destroyed, and we don’t know why,” UCS Faculty Senate President Leslie Gray said Thursday. “Does it mean something political, something sexual? No one knows anything about what happened, and it’s frustrating.
Late Thursday afternoon, responding to an investigation by the Bay Area News Group, the Jesuit organization investigating O’Brien said only: “The complaints against Father O’Brien do not imply abuse. sexual. “
For a religious organization that continues to come to terms with its shameful history spanning decades of priestly sexual abuse – and amid its repeated promises to become more transparent – the secrecy surrounding the exact reasons for O’Brien’s departure and his resignation resulting from this disturbs many.
Thursday’s email on the nature of the complaints against O’Brien from the Jesuit Western Province brought some relief, but still left many questions unanswered. “It’s so problematic,” Gray said. “But what is it, right?”
The Faculty Senate called for a meeting on Thursday with Board Chairman John M. Sobrato and Acting President Lisa Kloppenberg to discuss O’Brien’s resignation and other thorny issues at the 169-year-old university built around the historic mission founded in 1777. Organizers of SNAP, an advocacy group for victims of priestly sexual abuse, called the limited information “alarming” and demanded a thorough investigation.
Announcing O’Brien’s resignation on Wednesday, Sobrato said in a carefully crafted letter that an external investigation by the US West Jesuit Conference had concluded that O’Brien had engaged in behaviors during informal dinners with students on the priesthood path that involved drinking and drinking. mainly conversations that were “incompatible with established Jesuit protocols and limits”. O’Brien was given the option to remain on leave while completing a four- to six-month therapeutic outpatient treatment program for alcohol and stress management, Sobrato wrote, but tendered his resignation on Sunday instead.
O’Brien also sent his own letter to the campus community on Wednesday, explaining that his Jesuit provincial, Scott Santarosa, had expressed “concerns about my well-being” in March based on “accounts of my behavior during of the past year in some social settings with adults who did not meet the highest standards of decorum expected of me as a Jesuit.
He ended his letter with advice to students, saying, “No matter how successful or what positions you reach in life, everyone needs help sometimes, and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it and allow others to take care of you. “
For some students wandering the campus Thursday, which was still mostly in distance learning due to the pandemic, the official explanations behind the priest’s departure were sufficient.
“It would be nice to know a little more, but what he wrote to us was genuine,” said Jack Shoop, 18, freshman. “This is not our place. He’s definitely going through something.
Norelisa Nascimento, also a freshman, said that in some ways university officials are revealing too much.
“If you do something like Alcoholics Anonymous, it should be anonymous,” she said. “I think it’s a bit intrusive, and my friends thought they exposed it too much.
At the same time, she added, “we are still wondering, what could he have said, what could he have done to cause this scandal?”
The looming questions run the gamut: If the investigation wasn’t about sexual abuse, could it still have involved sexual overtures in some way? If conversations with graduate students involved controversial positions on Catholic dogma, for example, would such transgressions be sufficient cause to end the career of an otherwise admired leader? Could it have been a vendetta against O’Brien on the part of those who disagreed with his handling of campus issues? And if his behavior was “mostly” conversations, what was the rest?
Jesuits West’s one-sentence email on Thursday that the complaints did not relate to sexual abuse did not satisfy some skeptics.
“I’m not sure that would fully alleviate my concerns,” SNAP survivor support coordinator Melanie Sakoda said Thursday afternoon. If O’Brien said or did something inappropriate, “I wonder if it wasn’t sexual, why don’t they just say what it was?” Spread some of the statements he was saying that shocked these men. I don’t trust the church enough. They are not open about what happened.
Wider inquiries should be undertaken at O’Brien’s previous posts, SNAP says, including Georgetown and Fordham universities and the Berkeley Jesuit Theological Union.
“Any adult or adolescent in any religious setting could be vulnerable if an influential clergyman chose to exercise his extraordinary power,” they wrote.
Attempts to reach O’Brien through the university’s media office and at the Jesuit residence on campus failed on Thursday.
O’Brien’s departure comes just months after presiding over a mass at President Biden’s inauguration. He has considered Joe and Jill Biden as friends since his years at Georgetown University.
His tenure as president of the University of Santa Clara lasted only two brief years, but his outgoing nature and his relationships with students – he often remembered many of their names – and his positions on racial justice. endeared him to many on campus. Gray, of the Faculty Senate, said the majority of people she met were more sympathetic to her than not and gave her the benefit of the doubt.
“I think it could be so many things,” she said, “and it’s not really fair to Kevin O’Brien.”