Priest who celebrated Biden’s inaugural Mass under investigation

SINGLE USE ONLY. Fr. Kevin O'Brien at a 2014 event at Georgetown University. | Larry French / Getty Images Entertainment

A Jesuit priest who celebrated Joe Biden’s inaugural Mass in January is under investigation for alleged inappropriate behavior, according to the California university he heads. 

Father Kevin O’Brien is president of Santa Clara University, located near San Jose, Calif. He presided over the Jan. 20 Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington D.C., which President Biden attended the day before his inauguration. 

A March 15 statement from the university’s board chairman announced that he had recently learned of “accounts that Father O’Brien exhibited behaviors in adult settings, consisting primarily of conversations, which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”

Chairman John M. Sobrato said the university is taking the allegation seriously and that the Provincial of the Jesuits’ USA West Province, Fr. Sean Carroll, has launched an independent investigation. 

He urged any witnesses to inappropriate behavior to contact the Jesuits’ USA West Provincial Office. 

“The Trustees support those who came forward to share their accounts. It is important that anyone who witnesses actions they believe are inconsistent with [the university’s] values or rules is able to share their concerns and have confidence that they will be taken seriously,” Sobrato said. 

“At the same time, we 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.”

A spokeswoman for the Jesuits West Province, when queried by local news, declined to provide further details about the alleged misconduct, citing the order’s confidentiality practices. 

“Jesuits are held to a professional code of conduct, and the Province investigates allegations that may violate or compromise established boundaries,” Tracey Primrose told the San Jose Mercury News.

O’Brien, who has been placed on leave, has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation. 

Sobrato said the university would not be providing interim updates, but would communicate the final results of the investigation. 

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O’Brien has reportedly known the Biden family for at least 15 years, dating back to when O’Brien was serving at Georgetown University, according to SCU. In addition to this year’s Mass, he presided over Mass for Biden and his family in both 2009 and 2013, when Biden was sworn in as vice president, the Mercury News reported. 

The priest was reportedly popular and well-liked as SCU’s president, a post he took during July 2019. He was a frequent contributor to MSNBC, CNN and the Washington Post on Church-related issues.

Santa Clara University, established in 1851, counts current California Governor Gavin Newsom and former Governor Jerry Brown among its alumni. 

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