Child sex abuse bill unjustly shields public institutions, Atlanta archbishop warns

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Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta. Credit: Georgia Bulletin/Michael Alexander.

The Archbishop of Atlanta released a statement Friday announcing his opposition to a bill in the Georgia legislature that would discriminate between government and private entities in past cases of sex abuse.

House Bill 605, which is currently under session at the Georgia General Assembly, would extend the time limits for child abuse victims to sue their perpetrators, changing the age from 23 to 38, and potentially longer.

“In our Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Office of Child and Youth Protection helps us carry on our ‘Promise to Protect and Pledge to Heal’ by creating and maintaining safe environments and walking alongside survivors of sexual abuse on their journey to healing,” said Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta in a March 9 letter.

“With this commitment to safety and healing in mind, I write to inform you of an extraordinarily unfair bill currently pending in our state legislature,” Archbishop Gregory continued, referencing House Bill 605.

“All governmental agencies – park districts, public school districts, care facilities, and so forth – are inexplicably immune from the potential devastating effects of these lawsuits,” he wrote. “Churches, religious and private schools, non-profits and businesses are affected.”

The measure was introduced by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) who said the bill would support victims who have a hard time exposing abuse, often waiting until later in their lives to come forward.

The bill is currently in the State Judiciary Committee. It passed the House of Representatives in a 170-0 vote.

While supporting action against abusers, Gregory pointed to a number of injustices that the bill could enforce, saying that if the legislation is passed, the Church could potentially be hindered in carrying out its mission in the state.

Gregory said that the bill would allow lawsuits against churches and priests dating back decades – as early as the 1940s – even in cases where the accused are deceased, making their cases “difficult if not impossible to defend, and risking grave injustice.”

“We have always fully supported criminal prosecution of and lawsuits against any individual abuser of children, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred,” George remarked, noting the archdiocese’s efforts in fighting against sex abuse within the church.

“For the past two decades the Catholic Church in Georgia has had what may be the strongest safe environment program, non-profit or otherwise in the state. Our Church and our schools have strict zero tolerance policies regarding sexual abuse of any vulnerable person,” he continued.

However, Gregory remarked that the limitations of the “extraordinarily unfair bill currently pending in our state legislature” would be detrimental to innocent parties and the Church.

The Georgia archbishop asked those in his archdiocese to contact their state senator and other officials to object to the bill, saying that the measure would cause more harm than good.

“HB 605 does not protect anyone,” George said.

“Rather, innocent people and the organizations to which they belong will be radically impacted based on allegations against individuals who may no longer be alive and cannot speak for themselves.”

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