SALT LAKE CITY — May 16, 2018, 4:59 PM ET

Mormon church wants 1984 rape suit against ex-leader tossed

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The Mormon church has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing leaders of brushing aside rape allegations dating to 1984 against the former head of a church training center that prepares young members for religious missions.

Many people who could have testified about what happened in the 1980s have died or have only cloudy memories, leaving the faith unable to fully defend itself, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in court documents filed Tuesday.

McKenna Denson has said she reported several times over the past three decades that Joseph L. Bishop sexually assaulted her and the church failed to take disciplinary action.

Bishop has denied raping her but acknowledged to police that he asked her to expose herself when he was president of the faith's Missionary Training Center in Provo, according to police documents. The role he held from 1983 to 1986 gave him authority over hundreds of young Mormons preparing to go on church missions.

Bishop, now 85, is also named in the lawsuit. His attorneys argue the lawsuit should be dismissed because the claims are too old.

Her lawyers said Wednesday they disagree with the church's position. There are exceptions to time limits on lawsuits, and her case is one of them, attorney Craig Vernon said in an email. He also questioned the faith's decision to contest the lawsuit.

Denson, 55, has said her experience illustrates systemic problems in the church and she sued because she wants the faith to change the way it handles sexual abuse reports. She said Bishop singled her out, groomed her and sexually assaulted her. He told her no one would believe her if she came forward, she said.

The church has said no discipline was taken against Bishop because he denied the allegations and church members could not verify them.

The Associated Press does not usually name alleged victims of sexual assault, but Denson decided to go public with her story, saying the #MeToo movement gave her the courage to think she might be believed.

The case emerged with the release of a conversation Denson secretly recorded with Bishop in December. In it, Bishop is heard apologizing to Denson after she confronts him about the incident, but he does not specify what happened.

In the same conversation, Bishop acknowledged molesting an unidentified second woman and described it as back rub that he says got "too frisky."

The Mormon church has said it is investigating both incidents and has vowed to "bring accountability." Guidelines for how local leaders should deal with sexual abuse claims also were updated.

The case exposed how the church handles sexual abuse allegations, and was followed by news that a church member supervising missionaries in Puerto Rico was kicked out in 2014, after female missionaries reported "immoral and sinful" behavior.

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  • LE

    Male-dominated religious groupings basically contain two types of men: males who commit crimes against weaker people like women and children and males who cannot understand nor fathom that any other male would ever do such a thing. There seems to be no room for any other thinking in these groups.

    When a rape or sexual assault is reported, the very first reaction of the males in charge has always been to deny that it happened, to call the woman or child a liar, or try to make them think the victim misunderstood and what happened was really for their benefit. The second reaction is to blame the victim because they dressed wrong, or said the wrong thing, or were flirting, or didn't say "no" in the correct form.

    Then, after multiple accusations and proven evil acts, these same self-proclaimed religious men express shock that such a thing has happened and how remorseful they are, crying that they were unaware. Then again, they didn't really care until the bad publicity hit.

    Hey, guys. It's the 21st century. There's this little think called social media. You can try to hide these crimes from the light of day, but it will come out. Those of you in charge, you have a choice to either be on the side of victims or the side of rapists and molesters. There will be no middle ground any more.

  • Evan German

    Churches and religions over the centuries have covered up or denied so many immoral and illegal practices that it feels like they are Donald Trumps' White House, with six lies a day and counting. Maybe a little honesty would be a refreshing change.

  • Brandelyn Bostic

    Once again depraved behavior being excused and covered up... Typical

  • bibleexpert

    "Suffer the children to come unto me."

  • Jenna

    There shouldn't be a "time limit" on violent crimes like rape.

  • Craig Cooper

    last week they wanted all the marijuana laws "outlawed"... now they
    want this...... good thing they are only a "church"........or are they??

  • katerant

    Just another patriarchal church giving yet another pass to a sexual predator.

  • Treblig56

    Missionary position?

  • Lee Thompson

    So the Mormons are striving to align with Evangelicals?

  • Chuck Heston

    So you want to go on a missionary trip.... show me your boobs, LOL!!!

  • George286

    A shame whatever happened but an excellent example of why we have statutes of limitations. After 34 years there is no way to investigate, prove the case, or for an innocent accused to disprove it because the witnesses, memories and evidence are gone. Also, why is it fair that some innocent accused should have the possibility of a lawsuit or enlightenment hanging over their head indefinitely? either bring charges within a reasonable time or don't.
    Murder of course is the exception, but in the case of murder the physical evidence proof of a crime remains, a murdered corpse. For rape and most other crimes there may be DNA but explaining it is purely witnesses or he-said she-said.

  • Two Cents

    So the Mormon Church has decided to follow the Catholic model?

  • WorkingClass

    Gives new meaning to a missionary position....