Former Missionary Training Center president admits to asking a young missionary to expose her breasts in the ’80s, BYU police say

(Tribune file photo) Joseph L. Bishop, in 1972, about a decade before he became Missionary Training Center president.

A former president of the LDS Missionary Training Center has admitted that he took a young woman into a small room at the Provo campus in 1984 and asked to see her breasts, according to a report released Wednesday by Brigham Young University police.

The release comes three days after MormonLeaks published an explosive, taped conversation between the woman and Joseph L. Bishop, whom she accuses of attempting to rape her.

Bishop, now 85, said during their December conversation that he didn’t remember taking her into the room, let alone sexually assaulting her. But he repeatedly apologized, describing himself as a predator and saying he had confessed to other sexual misconduct — disclosures that have ignited outrage online and questions about whether the Mormon church failed to protect women.

Bishop was the president of Weber State College (now University) in the 1970s, a Mormon mission president in Argentina from 1979 to 1982 and president of the missionary compound until 1986, supervising thousands of young male and female missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In November, the woman told BYU police she wanted to report being sexually assaulted at the center in 1984. Before she spoke in detail with officers, however, she visited Bishop in Arizona, posing as a writer who was interviewing former mission presidents.

During their nearly three-hour conversation on Dec. 2, which she secretly recorded, the Colorado woman urged him to admit what he did to her and others. The woman reminded him that during their time at the MTC, Bishop flattered her, took her out of class and told her she was special. He shared intimate aspects of his own marriage, including his sex life, she said, describing specific details.

He asks her: “Was I trying to titillate you?”

She replies: “I believe that you were grooming me.”

She should be angry with him, he says, calling himself “an addict,” “predator,” and “hypocrite.” He admits to giving another female missionary a back rub that became “frisky.”

He claimed not to remember the assault she alleged, but three days later, he told BYU officers that he recalled going into his small preparation room with her. “Then while talking to her he asked her to show him her breasts,” the report said, “which she did.”

The woman told officers that Bishop attempted to kiss her in the room and she resisted. She said he ripped her blouse and skirt, pulled down other clothing and raped her, according to the report. She said she then pushed him off and left the room.

When officers asked Bishop why his account was different than hers, the report said, “he said he either can’t remember it or that [she] was exaggerating her account.”

Deputy Utah County Attorney David Sturgill said he could not pursue charges against Bishop because the statute of limitations had expired. In 1984, he said, the legal deadline for filing a rape charge was four years.

“I have no reason to doubt the victim’s disclosure, and would have likely prosecuted Mr. Bishop,” Sturgill wrote in the report, “but for the expiration of the statute of limitations.”

‘I have carried this’

BYU police had released a heavily redacted version of the December report earlier this week. After KUTV-Channel 2 appealed, the department released the less edited version Wednesday.

The Colorado woman was not immediately available for comment on the new report. In the recorded conversation, she told Bishop he had destroyed her faith in the church and her trust of the priesthood.

“I have carried this,” she said, “and it has destroyed my life.”

In an interview earlier this week, she told The Salt Lake Tribune she did not release to MormonLeaks a copy of her recorded conversation. She had shared the recording with several people, she said, and someone gave it to MormonLeaks without her consent.

She said the release may have undermined settlement negotiations she was having with Mormon officials. She asked not to be named, and The Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Greg Bishop, Bishop’s son, said Wednesday that his father’s admission to police was not entirely at odds with what the elderly man had recounted in private conversations. He told his son and police, Greg Bishop said, “that there was no sexual contact between them, no rape and that she exposed her breasts.”

Greg Bishop, a Park City-based attorney, said he supports the #MeToo movement and believes people who use positions of power for their own sexual gratification “should be held to account.”

But he argues that his father’s statements in the taped conversation are being misconstrued. The accuser wants to paint the elder Bishop as the “Harvey Weinstein of the Mormon church,” he said, a label his father agrees on the recording might be appropriate.

“But it just isn’t the same,” Greg Bishop said, pointing out that his father does not describe or admit to any physical acts in the tape other than the back rub he admits to giving another female missionary.

He said his father’s heightened sense of guilt led him to label himself as an addict for conduct others would not consider predatory.

“The way he uses the term, ‘sex addiction,’ and the way she uses it are different,” the son said. “Throughout his life, [my father] has struggled with … maintaining pure thoughts.”

It was a case of miscommunication, Greg Bishop said, pointing out that the taped conversation happened two days after his father underwent heart surgery.

Bishop’s own descriptions of his misconduct — other than the back rub — are vague or do not involve assaults.

‘I was not strong’

As part of his duties at the training center, Bishop told the Colorado woman, he was expected to counsel female missionaries who described having flashbacks of being sexually molested.

He did not want to advise women who had been traumatized; it felt wrong for him to be their confidant, he said.

“I was not strong,” he said. “The last person who should have been in that situation was me.”

Bishop said he asked his superiors for funding to hire professional counselors but was repeatedly told no.

General authority Carlos Asay’s interpretation of instructions from Mormon leadership, Bishop said, was: “Don’t go to counselors, professional counselors, when you have a bishop. Go to the bishop.”

One day, a sister missionary climbed to the second floor of the building and threatened to jump, he said. Bishop was able to “talk her down off that ledge,” he said, then angrily confronted Asay.

“If someone commits suicide in the MTC because they didn’t have special counseling, then it’s on you,” Bishop said he told Asay.

Asay then provided money, and Bishop arranged for counseling, he said.

Bishop also invited that sister missionary into his home. In the recording, he admits to giving her the “frisky” back rub.

The Colorado woman asks: “When did you molest her?” He answers: “When she was living with us.”

Greg Bishop conceded that his father did not challenge the woman’s use of the word “molest.” But he pointed out that his father, when explaining the event in his own words, says he rubbed her back and does not describe any other contact.

Bishop said an authority — “Somebody in the church, I don’t remember their name” — called him about that interaction “years and years ago,” when the woman apparently contacted church leaders. He added, “I confessed.” But he didn’t describe any discipline or consequences.

‘They were so farfetched’

The Colorado woman told The Tribune she reported her sexual-assault allegation to her LDS singles ward bishop in Utah County in 1987, after serving a mission. She offered the bishop as a corroborating witness, saying he arranged for her to speak with Asay, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy.

But the bishop, who asked not to be named, said in an interview with The Tribune that she did not use the words rape or attempted rape, instead describing other misconduct. He said he didn’t believe her, nor did he tell any superiors.

”I felt the allegations were groundless,” he recalled this week. “They were so farfetched and not internally logical.”

It takes a lot of vetting for a man to be approved for a position like MTC president, the Mormon lay leader said, “which made her story very hard to believe.”

LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the church does not have a record of Asay, who has since died, meeting with the woman. In her conversation with Bishop, she says that the church sent Asay to her, and that Asay told her he would interview Bishop. Bishop says he never heard from Asay about her claim.

In a lengthy statement, Hawkins said the church first learned of the woman’s claims in 2010, when she told leaders of the Pleasant Grove Utah West Stake about her experience with Bishop at the MTC.

In the recorded conversation, she tells Bishop she was asking in 2010 whether he had been disciplined, following up on the interview she said she had with Asay years earlier.

Hawkins said officials “listened carefully to the claims being made, and then this was immediately reported to the Pleasant Grove Police Department.”

According to a Pleasant Grove police report, however, that report was about the woman’s threat to kill Bishop, which she told an officer had been a joke. The church did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on whether it had forwarded her sexual assault claim to a law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the MTC.

Hawkins said the church asked Bishop’s local leaders to meet with him in 2010, and he denied her allegation. Unable to verify it, they did not impose any discipline, he said.

In 2016, the woman contacted an LDS stake president in Pueblo, Colo., and in January 2018, her lawyer contacted the church and shared the recording, Hawkins said.

“Since that time, the church has engaged in an investigation of [her] allegations, he said. ”Both [the accuser] and Mr. Bishop have been interviewed by outside legal counsel. Not surprisingly, the stories, timelines and recollections of those involved are dramatically different.”

The church also did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on whether it is investigating other conduct described by Bishop in the tape.

The LDS Church “takes seriously its responsibility to hold its members accountable for their conduct with respect of the laws of God and man,” Hawkins said. “To that end, the church is continuing its investigation of [the accuser’s] claims and will act consistent with its long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse.”

— Reporters Nate Carlisle and Jessica Miller contributed to this story.