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Santa Barbara district attorney looks into priest abuse cases

Those tracking down pedophile priests call Santa Barbara “Ground Zero” for institutional secrecy, cloaked in the walls of the former St. Anthony’s Seminary and Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Survivors like Bob Eckert say naming names is a huge milestone in the fight for justice. He’s referring to the 12,000 pages of personnel files released Thursday by the Los Angeles Catholic Church Archdiocese. “That was the whole goal,” Eckert told NewsChannel 3. “Push, bring attention to it — the more parents will be leery who they hand their children over to.”

We spoke with Eckert in the office of his attorney, Tim Hale, who represents more than 20 local survivors of priest abuse. Hale says 16 new victims have come forward, claiming to have suffered abuse at the hands of a priest in the San Francisco area as recently as 2001.

“These men cannot be prosecuted and can’t be forced to register as sex offenders,” Hale explained. “That’s why the release of these files is so critical.”

Hale believes removing Cardinal Roger Mahoney and Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas Curry is not enough. He wants to see the men criminally prosecuted and the Vatican strip them of their titles.

Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley admits her office is looking into the priest abuse cases and statute of limitations.

Hale is adamant pages are missing from the personnel files released by the Catholic Church. The Santa Barbara attorney cites one priest who only has nine pages when he ought to have as many as 200.

Local attorneys have documented 91 victims of priest abuse in the Santa Barbara area since the 1960s, and believe that number is higher. However, not all victims will come forward to tell their story.

“What pushes me to remain open and public are the people that can’t.” Eckert told NewsChannel 3. “It’s not easy to do. I use their strength as mine.”

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