SNAP Has Deep Concerns About Jesuit Priest In Executive Role At Fairfield University
(For Immediate Release December 20, 2022)
Fairfield University recently announced the leadership team for Fairfield Bellarmine. The announcement revealed that Fr. Kevin O’Brien will be working as the vice-provost and executive director of the school, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. SNAP has deep concerns over Fairfield tapping Fr. O'Brien for this position.
In May 2021, the Jesuit priest resigned from his position at Santa Clara University after being removed by the USA West Province on March 18, 2021. An investigation found that Fr. 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."
We wonder about the wisdom of the decision to place Fr. O'Brien at a school for "underserved students" when he was unable to maintain appropriate boundaries at Santa Clara. The complaints at Santa Clara were apparently serious enough to result in his "resignation" from the prestigious Catholic university. And yet, despite those accusations, he was given a new job three thousand miles away and again with authority over young and vulnerable adults.
Our unease is especially heightened when we consider a 2019 settlement that involved Fairfield University, Douglas Perlitz, a Fairfield graduate, and Fr. Paul E. Carrier, a chaplain at Fairfield. The original lawsuit accused Perlitz and Fr. Carrier of sexual abuse at a school for homeless boys in Haiti founded and operated by Perlitz with the help of several Catholic organizations, including Fairfield University. We cannot help but worry that the University is again making a mistake that will come back to haunt them in the case of Fr. O'Brien.
We urge the University to explain why they appointed Fr. O'Brien to the leadership team in light of the accusations made in California. Were they unaware of the scandal at Santa Clara University? If Fairfield was aware of the complaints, we wonder what plans are in place to ensure that nothing similar occurs at Fairfield Bellarmine?
Fairfield University owes the community and the public an explanation for its decision. Last year Pope Francis declared that the sexual abuse of adults is a crime in the Catholic Church, so serious attention needs to be paid even to accusations of "boundary violations" with adults. We are reminded of the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, where accusations of his inappropriate behavior with adults were ignored for years and erupted into the media spotlight only when it became clear that seminarians were not McCarrick's only targets.
CONTACT: Gail Howard, SNAP Leader Connecticut (203-644-0387 [email protected]) Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications ([email protected], 267-261-0578) Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(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 SNAPnetwork.org)