A woman who alleges the then-president of the LDS Missionary Training Center raped her sued The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Wednesday.
McKenna Denson says in her lawsuit that the church placed Joseph L. Bishop in charge of the training center in Provo despite “red flag sexual improprieties” years earlier.
Those include, the lawsuit claims, improprieties with a young woman while serving as a missionary in Argentina and inappropriate treatment of women when Bishop was president of Weber State University.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Salt Lake City. It names both the LDS Church and Bishop, 85, as defendants. Denson’s suit seeks damages to be determined at trial.
Denson’s attorney, Craig K. Vernon, is scheduled to hold a news conference Thursday in Salt Lake City discussing the lawsuit and providing results of a polygraph exam. The news release Wednesday named Denson and said she was coming forward as a victim of sex abuse.
“Denson seeks justice for this horrific sexual assault as well as the ongoing emotional distress she suffered by repeatedly being ignored, disbelieved, shamed and blamed by the Church she loved so dearly,” the statement from Vernon and his law firm said.
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the LDS Church, on Wednesday referred to two sentences from an earlier statement the church issued on the allegations against it and Bishop:
“The Church has great faith in the judicial system to determine the truth of these claims. Nevertheless, the Church takes seriously its responsibility to hold its members accountable for their conduct with respect of the laws of God and man.”
Bishop’s son, Greg Bishop, who is also an attorney who has spoke on his father’s behalf, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit comes less than month after MormonLeaks published a recorded conversation between Denson and the elder Bishop. That recording was made in December.
In the conversation, Bishop said he didn’t remember taking her into the room, let alone sexually assaulting her. However, he repeatedly apologized, describing himself as a predator and saying he had confessed to other sexual misconduct.
Three days after the conversation, he told BYU police 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.”
Bishop’s descriptions of himself are referenced in Denson’s lawsuit. As for the rape, she says that happened in early 1984 in a “secret room” Bishop had at the Missionary Training Center that included a small bed.
Inside the room, the lawsuit says, Bishop led her to the bed and tried to kiss her. Denson pushed him away and tried to leave.
The complaint says Bishop pushed her onto the bed, tore open her blouse and tore the seam of her skirt. After Bishop penetrated her, the lawsuit says, Denson was able to kick free and get to the door.
Bishop said no one would believe what happened to her, the lawsuit says. “Look at you, look at me,” it quotes Bishop as saying.
Denson says she told her local church leader about what happened in 1987 or 1988. A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy later interviewed Denson, the lawsuit says, and said he would tell her the outcome. She told other church leaders in subsequent years, the lawsuit says, but nothing happened.
Much of the court complaint discusses the LDS Church — its hierarchy and how its leaders continued giving Bishop positions over young people despite concerns about his behavior.
The lawsuit claims while serving as president of the Buenos Aries North Argentina Mission in 1978, Bishop confessed sins and improprieties to Robert E. Wells, who was then a general authority over the region.
The LDS Church hired Salt Lake City attorney David Jordan to investigate the woman’s claims. In a nine-page letter to Vernon, Jordan said there were inconsistencies in Denson’s claims. Jordan also referenced a child Denson gave up for adoption. And he cited Denson’s criminal record and church discipline as reasons to doubt her story.
Correction: April 4, 2018, 8:17 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Joseph L. Bishop's role in the lawsuit, and gave an incorrect setting for the taped conversation, which happened in person.