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Manti Te'o still has a key fan on his side: his Mormon bishop

Published January 23, 2013 12:00 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Manti Te'o's story of being duped by a fake girlfriend may seem unbelievable to many, but his Mormon bishop backs the Notre Dame football superstar.

Not only has Jim Carrier, bishop of the Notre Dame LDS Ward (congregation), met regularly with Te'o since last spring, but the Mormon leader also talked on the phone with the woman pretending to be Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

"I talked to Lennay many times," Carrier told the South Bend Tribune. "Many times. On the phone. I would go over to [Te'o's] house, and he'd say, 'Hey Lennay, Bishop's here. Do you want to talk to him?' "

Carrier said he would ask the woman, "Hey, Lennay, how are you doing? How's your leukemia going? How's your treatment?"

The bishop told the paper that Te'o was completely taken in by the woman.

"This wasn't some fictitious thing that was going on. I think some people are saying, 'Well, how could he not know this was a hoax or whatever?' " Carrier said. "He had no idea. He really didn't."

In a taped interview with Katie Couric, however, Te'o did acknowledge that he lied briefly about Kekua's existence in December after finding out that it was a hoax.

The first two or three years Te'o was playing for Notre Dame, the defensive standout wasn't attending church regularly, his bishop told the newspaper. But that changed in the spring of 2012, when the star player believed Kekua had been in a car accident.

"I said, 'Manti, you are man of steel. I need to make you a man of God.' He's like, 'You're right, Bishop. I need to work on that,' " Carrier said. "That started our relationship of interacting, of working, of making sure he was doing what he should be doing."

In the end, the bishop said, Te'o was tricked not because he was gullible, but because the story tapped his deepest spiritual feelings.

"Manti was having his heartstrings pulled," Carrier recalled. "He's a great kid, and he was just trying to do what was right."

Peggy Fletcher Stack