Woman files sexual assault suit against LDS Church, Chandler man
The woman who said the president of the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center raped her while she was a missionary there in 1984 filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday night.
McKenna Denson, 55, of Pueblo, Colorado, filed suit in U.S. District Court against Joseph L. Bishop, 85, of Chandler, Arizona, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for sexual assault and battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure and fraudulent concealment.
The suit asked for a jury trial seeking damages for loss of earnings and to pay for medical and legal expenses. It also asked that a jury direct the church to change its policies.
The suit alleges that the church knew Bishop had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior toward women before he was called as the MTC president, then did not report Denson’s rape allegation to authorities or take ecclesiastical action against him.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment on Wednesday night pointing to previous statements. On March 23, after Denson’s allegations became public, the church said the following:
“We share the anger and distress Church members and others feel to learn of incidents where those entrusted with sacred responsibilities violate God’s commandments and harm others. Such behavior is repulsive and sinful. The Church is looking into all aspects of the assertions on the recording of Joseph Bishop,” he said.
Bishop has denied the allegations. He declined to comment Wednesday night through his son, Gregory Bishop.
“The church has great faith in the judicial system to determine the truth of these claims,” Hawkins said in a previous statement.
The lawsuit claims Bishop admitted inappropriate sexual behavior toward women to his mission president while serving as a young missionary himself in Argentina and to his local church leaders in Florida before he was called as a mission president and as MTC president.
Bishop allegedly confessed past sexual improprieties to his LDS leader while he was a mission president in Argentina from 1978-81, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit characterizes Bishop’s subsequent calling to be the MTC president from 1983-86 “an epic institutional betrayal of trust” because it elevated him to a position of authority over thousands of young female missionaries after the alleged confession.
Denson entered the MTC in January 1984 for training to serve in the Colombia Cali Mission.
The lawsuit claims Bishop singled out Denson, groomed her for abuse and eventually took her to a basement storage room and raped her.
Denson reported the attack 10 times to various LDS leaders but that they took no action against Bishop, the suits claims. It asks a jury to find that the LDS Church is liable for the assault or is an accessory because it allegedly failed to take action against Bishop after he disclosed his sexual predilections and sexual improprieties.
In 1984, the statute of limitations for rape in Utah was four years. However, the suit claims the statute of limitations for fraud has not run out because Denson first learned the church had taken no action against Bishop in December 2017. The lawsuit claims Denson made 10 reports about Bishop to various LDS leaders over the years without learning if any action had been taken against him.
The LDS Church said on March 23 that it had learned in 2010 that a second woman had claimed Bishop sexually abused her while he was the MTC president.
“We are committed to bringing accountability for what has occurred,” it said at the time.
The church has said in statements that in the case of both women, Bishop denied the allegations to his local church leaders.
In 1994, late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley called sexual abuse a “terrible, vicious practice” and “a violation of that which is sacred and divine,” adding that, “It is reprehensible and worthy of the most severe condemnation.”
He also said, “The church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse…are subject to church discipline. They should not be given church callings and may not have a temple recommend.”
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