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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended May 21, 2000
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 17May00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Bishop Arrested For Failure To Report Abuse
Salt Lake Tribune 17May00 N1
By Stephen Hunt: Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Police in Sandy, Utah have arrested an LDS bishop for failing to report the sexual abuse of a 15-year-old girl. They say that Bishop David West Maxwell, 36, of the Crescent 23rd Ward, learned of the abuse from the victim 'several months' before he was charged in February. Trial on the class B misdemeanor is postponed because a witness is unavailable.

Attorneys for both Maxwell and for the LDS Church say that Maxwell did nothing wrong. Maxwell's attorney, John Walsh, says, "Bishop Maxwell complied with the laws of the land and will ultimately be exonerated." And the LDS Church's attorney, Von Keetch, agrees, "We have every reason to believe that Bishop Maxwell handled this situation properly, in full accordance with Utah law and church policy. We expect him to be exonerated by the judicial process."

Sandy Prosecutor Van Midgley refused to return telephone calls from the Salt Lake Tribune on the case, nor did Maxwell return a call requesting comment.

Under Utah law, clergy are only exempt from reporting suspected abuse if the only source of their knowledge is the perpetrator's confession. If the information comes from the victim or elsewhere, they are required by law to report it to the authorities.

Maxwell allegedly learned of the sexual assault in December from the victim, who told Maxwell she had been attacked by a 16-year-old boy also in Maxwell's ward. Maxwell delayed reporting the abuse, according to police, while he talked to the girl three times and to the boy. Then the victim told an LDS Seminary teacher, who subsequently told Maxwell, "If you don't report it, I will," according to Sandy police Sgt. Kevin Thacker. Maxwell contacted the police the same day.

Police reports on the incident say that Maxwell told them he had consulted with the stake president and with the LDS Church's abuse help line for local leaders, and "Maxwell said he was informed that his obligation was to not report," according to the report.

Sgt. Thacker says Maxwell's good intentions in failing to report the assault are irrelevant, "Any case of this type has to be reported to the police," he said. "Let the proper authorities decide what to do."

The case is unusual because clergy are rarely charged for failing to report abuse, mainly because police focus on the perpetrator, rather than the controversial charges against clergy. Additionally, jurors in Utah may be sympathetic to LDS bishops, who volunteer their time and may be ignorant of the fine points of the law.

In recent years, the LDS Church has tried to train local leaders on abuse and General Authorities have spoken from the pulpit on the evils of abuse at least since the early 1970s. Since 1985, the Church has also published several pamphlets on how clergy should handle abuse cases. In addition, the Church held one-day workshops for Utah bishops and other local leaders in 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1996. The Church has also distributed videos to all bishops on the issue.

However, critics say these measures don't go far enough, claiming that the Church should require bishops to attend annual training on child sexual abuse issues.


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