A Roman Catholic archdiocese has come out against a bill in the Georgia legislature that would, among other things, expand the opportunities for victims of sex abuse to file lawsuits, arguing that if enacted it could "drastically damage" their ministries.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the head of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, released a statement of opposition last week to Georgia's House Bill 605.
Published by the Archdiocese's official publication The Georgia Bulletin, Gregory listed multiple objections to the bill, including a concern over HB 605's expansion of the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases.
"HB 605 would allow lawsuits against churches, private schools, businesses and non-profit organizations for actions asserted to have occurred many decades ago, potentially as far back as the 1940s, and the accused are very often deceased," argued Gregory.
"Recognizing that these lawsuits can be very difficult if not impossible to defend, and risking grave injustice, the vast majority of states simply do not permit them."
Gregory went on to stress that his archdiocese has enacted measures to combat sex abuse since the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal first made headlines in the early 2000s.
"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," continued Gregory.
"The efforts of this office, along with all dioceses in the United States, are audited on a yearly basis by an independent firm who verifies compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Our Victim Assistance director ministers to those who have suffered abuse without question, no matter when or where the abuse took place."
Introduced by Representative Jason Spencer and also called the Hidden Predator Act of 2018, HB 605 passed the Georgia House of Representatives late last month in a unanimous vote.
While the archdiocese is critical of the bill, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board released a short statement last week expressing support for HB 605.
"We look forward to working with Rep Spencer to perfect a bill that will protect children throughout our state," read the statement, signed by GBMB Executive Director J. Robert White and GBMB Public Affairs Representative Mike Griffin.
This is not the first time that regional Catholic Church bodies have expressed opposition to proposed legislation that expands the statute of limitations for sex abuse cases.
In late January, three dioceses in Colorado released a statement opposing the state's Senate Bill 18-058, explaining that there were certain problems with creating an indefinite statute for such cases.
"In cases of child abuse, we should do everything possible to encourage victims to come forward as soon as possible and for those aware of the abuse to report it as soon as possible," stated the dioceses to local media outlet Denver7.
"Our State law should reflect this policy as a matter of basic fairness to those involved and not go down a slippery slope that potentially creates unfair and unjust situations."