He was ordained in May, 1964. In early September, 1990, Bishop Sklba held an emergency meeting with O’Brien about a compromising situation with a minor. Bishop Sklba subsequently called Fond du Lac to learn the proper jurisdiction, and subsequently made a report to the police. In a later meeting with Vicar for Clergy, Father Hornacek, O’Brien admitted to a relationship with a 17-year-old that occurred in 1999 at Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, (St. Mary’s) Fond du Lac. O’Brien subsequently submitted his letter of resignation to Archbishop Weakland, dated September 29, 2000. The effective date of O’Brien’s resignation was October 2, 2000. By a letter dated October 6, 2000, Bishop Sklba informed parishioners that the archdiocese had recently become aware of one incident of misconduct against O’Brien. As a result, O’Brien had resigned from the parish.
On October 24, 2000, a criminal complaint of fourth degree sexual assault was filed against O’Brien, which the archdiocese acknowledged in a media statement. On November 7, 2000, O’Brien pled no contest to fourth degree sexual assault, was placed on probation for 18 months, and was required to undergo treatment at St. Louis Consultation Center. The archdiocese issued a media statement indicating there had been no evidence of any other incident involving O’Brien and misconduct with children or adolescents.
On December 19, 2000, Archbishop Weakland issued a precept prohibiting O’Brien from all contact with minors, and requiring him to cease all public ministry, to avoid places of temptation in the area of sexual morality, to cease all pastoral counseling, and revoking his ability to hear confession. In April, 2001, Weakland renewed the precept without modifying the restrictions. A May 31, 2001 police report indicates that another individual had come forward with allegations of misconduct against O’Brien dating to 1976 when the victim was a minor.
An August, 2001, final report issued by the St. Louis Consultation Center indicates that O’Brien is not a predator and should be given an assignment, but not as pastor or administrator. However, in September, 2001, O’Brien’s probation officer advised the archdiocese that O’Brien should not return to ministry because two more alleged juvenile victims had come forward.
Toward the end of 2001, and again on several occasions in 2002, the archdiocese issued precepts containing the aforementioned restrictions. In March, 2002, O’Brien celebrated Mass against his restrictions. In April, 2002, the Vicar for Clergy advised O’Brien that he was still restricted from ministry and could not celebrate Mass anywhere, even in a nursing home. The vicar told O’Brien that it was unlikely he would ever minister again.
Eventually, in August, 2002, the archdiocese sent O’Brien a revised precept, which kept the restrictions in place until he was notified that they had been revoked. In February, 2003, Archbishop Dolan sent O’Brien a letter to confirm that the precept was still in place. O’Brien was further informed in April, 2003, that the restrictions of not wearing the Roman collar or presenting himself as a priest were new, and that his case would be sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Then, in May, 2003, Vicar for Clergy, Father Hornacek, wrote to O’Brien to offer him options because he would not be permitted to serve as a priest again. He could seek voluntary laicization and receive $20,000. Otherwise, the archbishop would submit his case to the CDF to initiate a penal trial.
In a June 12, 2003 letter to Hornacek, O’Brien requested laicization. In a subsequent letter to Pope John Paul II, dated August 7, 2003, O’Brien addressed his resignation from ministry. In November, 2003, the archdiocese sent O’Brien a letter, addressing a check that he had previously received for $10,000 as part of his laicization, as well as discussing reimbursement for his health insurance premium.
On September 22, 2003, a representative of the archdiocese sent a letter to Milwaukee District Attorney, Michael McCann, explaining that they did not report an incident involving a particular victim and O’Brien because they were under the impression that the victim had been 18 at the time. In a letter dated September 23, 2003, Archbishop Dolan wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF, stating that O’Brien had been criminally convicted of sexually molesting a 17-year-old boy, and that another accusation of sexual misconduct had come to the archdiocese’s attention, and asking that O’Brien be dispensed from all obligations of the priesthood.
In January, 2004, Archbishop Dolan wrote to one of O’Brien’s victims to apologize for the abuse he had suffered, to acknowledge his courage in reporting it, and to advise him of resources available to him to assist him in addressing the abuse, including a dispute resolution program. The archdiocese subsequently received another report of explicit sexual contact by O’Brien of an 11-12-year-old in 1967-1968.
In a June 16, 2004 letter, an archdiocesan representative referred the report of abuse by O’Brien to District Attorney McCann for assessment. The following month (July), Archbishop Dolan advised one of O’Brien’s victims that he had authorized the release of the names of priests who are now or would have been restricted from all priestly ministries.
In November, 2004, Archbishop Dolan sent a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger enclosing additional information regarding O’Brien, including information about O’Brien having pled no contest to touching a boy’s penis, and that two separate victims had now come forward.
In March, 2005, O’Brien subscribed to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Clergy Advocacy and Monitoring Program Protocols, acknowledging the various restrictions that had been imposed on him, including not identifying himself as a priest or deacon.
In August, 2005, the archdiocese entered a settlement agreement with one of O’Brien’s victims, which required a lump sum payment of $50,000, and an additional $14,000 for three years in consideration of the special employment and disabilities attributed to O’Brien, as well as payment of therapy expenses.
In early September, 2005, Archbishop Dolan wrote to Archbishop Amato at the CDF reminding them that O’Brien had been criminally convicted of sexual abuse, another victim had come forward, and that O’Brien had been observed on a number of occasions in the local library with adolescent boys. Dolan noted that efforts at monitoring O’Brien had not been not successful, and requested that laicization be expedited.
In a January, 2006, response, the CDF advised Dolan that they were positively disposed towards Dolan’s request, but could not present it to the Holy Father until there was “at least an admission of guilt and a sincere expression of remorse.” The CDF requested that Dolan “invite the Rev. O’Brien to write a petition which will contain the above-mentioned elements.” Thereafter, in a letter dated August 29, 2006, O’Brien asked Pope Benedict XVI to accept his resignation and stated that he would not be able to exercise priestly ministry because of his history and misdemeanor criminal conviction for sexual abuse of a minor.
In 2007, the archdiocese received a report that O’Brien had abused a 9-10-year-old in 1967-1968.
On May 6, 2008, O’Brien subscribed to a support and safety plan established by the archdiocese, wherein he agreed to follow certain requirements designed to assist him in living in a life of holiness.
In April, 2009, O’Brien was the subject of a laicization rescript from Pope Benedict XVI.