President of Santa Clara University resigns, SNAP calls for broader investigation

Until the allegations against him surfaced earlier this year, Fr. Kevin O’Brien was an exalted priest with tremendous power and influence. The fact that the cleric was found to have engaged in behaviors with "Jesuit" graduate students is alarming given his power, the seminarians' need for his approval, and the age difference.There seems to us to not be a whole lot of difference between a twenty-something seminarian and a eighteen year-old Catholic high school student interested in being a seminarian, especially when alcohol is involved.

In our experience, a reference to drinking and “inappropriate” actions “consisting mainly of conversations” is sometimes code for something else when it involves a Catholic priest. There are countless examples of resignations with referrals to out-patient or in-patient treatment centers that were eventually revealed to be code for sexual abuse and the abuse of power.

Consider the case of disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. His predations on seminarians were ignored by three popes, countless cardinals, and the various bishops who worked under him and needed his support for their career progression. As it happens, McCarrick also abused children.

While we have absolutely no information that Fr. O’Brien has followed a similar path, to us the accusations raise a red flag of concern. Any adult or teen in any religious setting could be vulnerable if an influential clergyman chose to exercise his extraordinary power.

The Jesuits in the United States are the largest religious order in this country, with approximately 2,250 active priests and religious brothers. They are also the world’s largest religious order and the current Pope is himself a member of this order.

Jesuits in the United States -- at least so far -- also acknowledge the largest number of abusive clergy of any Catholic religious order in this country. Over 300 Jesuit perpetrators have been listed by the order.

For these reasons, we believe that more needs to be said about this situation and that the investigation needs to broaden. Fr. O’Brien held four senior positions at four prestigious Catholic institutions. He also has the imprimatur of our current President. It would take enormous courage for a victim, adult or child, to speak out. Instead of waiting for survivors to overcome this hurdle, we think Fr. O’Brien or his order should clarify what exactly happened and when. The Jesuits should also  invite any victims to come forward and promise them protection and support.

If abuse of any sort occurred while on the job as SCU’s president, it likely also occurred while Fr. O'Brien was at Jesuit Theological Union, Georgetown, and Fordham. All of those institutions should also undertake reviews, with the reports from those reviews published. What we as advocates do not want is to discover that this was another McCarrick situation, where the abuse was known but ignored for years. We also do not want to discover that serious allegations were laundered and sanitized by “therapy” or “treatment”. There are simply way too many examples of those words being used to hide predators in plain sight.

CONTACT: Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator (925-708-6175[email protected]), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (517-974-9009[email protected])
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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