The recording posted Monday was shocking: A former LDS Missionary Training Center president was saying he had a sexual addiction and admitting he improperly touched at least one sister missionary under his care. The Colorado woman who had secretly recorded him in December quickly said the tape had been released by the website MormonLeaks without her knowledge or permission.
But after a week of controversy over Joseph L. Bishop’s statements and her claim he had attempted to rape her in 1984, along with criticism of the LDS Church’s response and of MormonLeaks for possibly scuttling a proposed settlement with the church, the woman said Saturday she was glad the website had pushed the scandal into public view.
In a statement posted on MormonLeaks, she wrote that the release, while “prior to my consent,” has “actually helped me,” and she applauded the site’s staffers for supporting her cause.
“It is my belief that they were concerned about all of the victims that may become forgotten if my story was silenced by a settlement and nondisclosure agreement,” the accuser wrote. “I cannot fault them for that.”
Still, she described the site’s decision as taking away her choice of whether to pursue a settlement. Her attorney said Saturday the church has halted “general settlement discussions” since the leak.
Bishop, now 85, denied the woman’s allegation during their conversation and later to police, and his son has said Bishop’s statements on the recording about other misconduct have been misconstrued.
The call to publish the recording was carefully made, MormonLeaks founder Ryan McKnight said Saturday.
“We didn’t see it as hurting her settlement; if she deserves a settlement, it’s because of what he did to her, not because there’s a tape,” he said.
The woman confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday that she had written the statement but did not comment further. She asked not to be named, and The Tribune generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.
Statements and interviews Saturday — involving the woman, her lawyer, McKnight and the church — show how the chronology of settlement attempts intersected with the exposure of the stunning recording.
Seeking a settlement
In her Saturday statement, the Colorado woman explained that she interviewed Bishop because she “was pissed off.” She had initially told him she was a writer researching former mission presidents. About 40 minutes into their conversation, she confronted him about her claim that he tore her clothing and attempted to rape her at the center in 1984.
Bishop admitted he gave another female missionary a back rub that turned “frisky” but said he doesn’t remember assaulting the Colorado woman.
The LDS Church had told her, she said in her Saturday statement, that she “wasn’t entitled to know what action, if any, had been taken” after she reported her allegations to several church leaders over the past three decades.
After their conversation, she described her sexual assault allegation against Bishop to Brigham Young University police, which eventually closed the case because the legal deadline for filing charges has long passed.
Before Monday’s release, there had been settlement talks between the woman and the church that included “discussions about a NDA,” or nondisclosure agreement, her attorney, Craig Vernon, said in a statement Saturday. He pointed out that “the church made no actual offer to settle the case so the church did not officially propose a settlement that included a NDA.”
Eric Hawkins, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Saturday “there was no settlement negotiation.” The woman’s attorney “sent one letter with a settlement proposal,” Hawkins said, “which was declined.”
Greg Bishop, the MTC president’s son who is also acting as his attorney, said the family has been in “no settlement talks.”
The church “did reject our proposal,” Vernon wrote. “But general settlement discussions (with no offers) did continue until the leak. Nothing since then.”
Tale of the tape
At the point MormonLeaks received the audio from its source, it came “with the message that her options to settle had been exhausted and we could do whatever we wanted with the tape,” McKnight said. “I was under the impression she knew we were getting it.”
The site’s staff started preparing it for publication by making a transcript and redactions, he said, and “we let our source know we were doing that.”
Last Saturday morning, he said, the source told MormonLeaks the woman “would like you to wait a little longer, and she thinks settlement negotiations were going to restart.”
“We were faced with risking her getting a settlement and an NDA and burying the tape forever,” McKnight said, “or releasing it ourselves.”
He and others had “hours and hours of conversation,” he said, and came to feel releasing the tape “was the right thing” to do.
“We felt that by completely hiding her identity, we could release it in a way that it was about him and what he said, which is what is important to MormonLeaks,” he said, “and she could decide as it plays out whether she wants to come forward and own it or remain anonymous.”
He said they believed they had told the woman, by telling their source, “we were going to release it anyway,” he said, “but not when.”
In hindsight, he added, “I’m open to the idea that maybe we could have handled it differently.”
Breaking the news
MormonLeaks posted the recording of the nearly three-hour conversation and the transcript Monday morning, setting off a week of media coverage and a frenzy of reactions and discussions on blogs and social media.
The woman said she shared copies with several people, and someone gave it without her consent to the site. She told The Tribune and other media outlets that she was worried the release might hurt her chances of a settlement, sparking criticism of MormonLeaks by commenters online.
On Wednesday, a newly released BYU police report showed Bishop had told officers in December that he and the Colorado woman were alone in a small room he had at the MTC in 1984. He said he asked to see her breasts and she complied. He said their accounts differed either because he could not remember the incident or she was exaggerating.
On Friday, Hawkins issued a statement that said the church had not seen the police report with Bishop’s admission until Wednesday. It said the church learned in 2010 of the woman’s allegation and the other woman’s claim that she also had been sexually abused by Bishop, but leaders were unable to verify the claims and did not discipline him.
It said the church is now “looking into all aspects of the assertions on the recording.”
McKnight said he and the woman had a lengthy and cordial conversation on Friday, and he received her statement as an email on Saturday.
She wrote that she does not believe the men running the site are “re-victimizing” her, and said the release helped her.
She had been “struggling with the settlement,” she explained. “Part of me wanted to take it and part of me didn’t.”
The leaked tape “made it easy for me,” she said. “Now I don’t have to choose.”
She added: “Part of me wanted this to go away quietly and a bigger part of me wanted to scream from the top of the mountain what he did to me. Now I get to scream.”
Her attorney made it clear if settlement talks don’t resume, his client would pursue a lawsuit. The woman said in her Saturday statement her identity will be revealed when that lawsuit is filed.
“I look forward,” she said, “ to sharing more of the story in the coming weeks.”