SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A week of focused attention on the search for Warren Jeffs, the fugitive leader of a southern Utah-based polygamist sect, has The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calling for more accurate reporting from news agencies worldwide.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Mormon church said references to polygamist groups as 'Mormons' or 'Mormon sects' are "misleading and confusing to the vast majority of audiences who rightfully associate the term 'Mormon' with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Church spokesman Dale Bills said the public affairs office has fielded numerous media requests after the FBI added Jeffs to its Ten Most Wanted list.
"There is no reason why the church would wish to comment about a legal action concerning a group with which it has no affiliation or connection," Bills said in a statement posted on the church's Web site on Thursday.
The statement cites two examples of media confusion, including a report by CNN on Tuesday that superimposed the face of Jeffs over an image of the church's Salt Lake Temple, implying a connection between the two.
It also said Fox News aired a recent story featuring former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, now a news analyst with Fox, about the political risks he believes Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is running by pressing for prosecution of polygamist leaders, implying that "the church and its members would be opposed to the actions of the Utah attorney general."
"Such an interpretation is wholly unjustified and is inconsistent with the previous comments of church President Gordon B. Hinckley," whose 1998 statement said the church "has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy" and excommunicates members who do, the church statement said.
Mormons abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890 as a condition of statehood. Fundamentalists claim then church-President John Taylor directed some church leaders to quietly continue the practice. Such claims are not supported by Taylor's own writings or any known church documents.
Most Utah-based fundamentalists believe, however, that they, not the mainstream Mormon church, are practicing the original tenets of the church founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith.
Like Mormons, many of the groups, including Jeffs' own Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, use the Book of Mormon and other Mormon religious materials as their central texts.
"Protestants use the bible and use the same terminology as Catholics do, but it doesn't make them Catholic," church spokesman Mike Otterson said. "This is all about avoiding confusion."
Jeffs, who has not been seen publicly in almost two years, is wanted on felony charges accusing him of arranging the underage marriage of a girl, as well as federal warrants for alleged unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)