Mormon bishop says law requiring clergy to report crimes unfair

Posted: Friday, August 18, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Mormon bishop charged with failing to report child sex abuse said it's unfair to expect him to act as a police officer.

Bruce R. Christensen, who pleaded innocent earlier this month, said Monday he plans to challenge a state law requiring clergy to report crimes unless their sole knowledge comes from a perpetrator's confession.

''Now, if someone comes into my office, I need a sign above my door saying, 'Anything you say, I have to report to the police,''' Christensen said after a preliminary hearing in his first public statement since being charged. ''It doesn't provide me as a clergyman time to reflect and give counsel.''

Christensen is the second Salt Lake-area bishop to be charged this year under the law, which has rarely been prosecuted in the last decade. Bishop David West Maxwell of Sandy faces charges that he failed to report when a teen-age girl told him she had been sexually abused.

Prosecutor Angela Micklos said the statute is fair and could not recall it being challenged before.

But Christensen's attorney, Bradley Rich, said forcing clergy to run to the cops blurs the separation of church and state.

Christensen said one of the members of his Salt Lake 21st Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to him because her husband abused her. The bishop said he made arrangements for the woman and her infant to stay at a women's shelter and get an attorney.

The woman also allegedly told Christensen her husband behaved ''inappropriately'' with the little girl in the bathtub, but the bishop said he did not believe he needed to report the comment.

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