Judge tosses lawsuit against former MTC president accused of sexual abuse — but a fraud claim against the Mormon church survives

A federal judge has tossed much of the lawsuit filed by a former missionary who alleged she was sexually assaulted by a Missionary Training Center leader in 1984.

Attorneys for former MTC President Joseph L. Bishop and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked the judge to dismiss the suit, filed in April, arguing McKenna Denson had missed a legal deadline years ago to make her claims.

Denson’s attorney Craig Vernon told U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in Salt Lake City that while his client was reportedly sexually assaulted by Bishop in 1984, she didn’t know about his alleged sexual addiction or “lifelong” predation until December 2017, when she clandestinely recorded him discussing his past confessions to Mormon officials.

In a Monday ruling, Kimball wrote that the statute of limitations had passed for Denson’s claims against Bishop. She had until 1988 to file suit alleging sexual assault, the judge wrote, and until 1991 for her claim of infliction of emotional distress. Her fraud claim needed to have been filed by 1990.

But Kimball wrote in his ruling that the statute of limitations for claims against the Mormon church did not start until 2017 — when Denson interviewed Bishop.

Her lawsuit alleges the church committed fraud by presenting Bishop as a safe and trustworthy leader, placing him in charge of the faith’s flagship MTC, in Provo, despite “red flag sexual improprieties” years earlier.

This fraud assertion is now the sole allegation remaining in the lawsuit. Kimball also dismissed three other claims against the Utah-based faith — including Denson’s assertion that the church’s inaction caused her emotional distress — because they did not have merit.

Vernon said Monday that while they were disappointed that Bishop is no longer a part of the lawsuit, they look forward to pushing the lawsuit against the church.

“She’s happy she’s able to continue her fight,” he said.

Vernon said the lawsuit will now continue with lawyers exchanging evidence and depositions of those involved.

“We’ve got to prove our case,” Vernon said, which will involve exploring “why in the world Mr. Bishop was placed at the MTC.”

Eric Hawkins, spokesman for the LDS Church, said in a Monday statement that the judge preserving the remaining claim will now allow the parties to “investigate its merits.”

“We remain confident in the legal system to evaluate these claims and determine the truth,” Hawkins said. “As the church has repeatedly stated, there can be no tolerance for abuse.”

Bishop’s lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment Monday.

The lawsuit was filed less than a month after MormonLeaks published the recorded conversation between Denson and Bishop. She recorded their discussion in December, initially posing as a writer who was interviewing former mission presidents. She then confronted him with her assault allegation.

In the conversation, Bishop said he didn’t remember taking her into a room in the basement of the MTC, 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, Bishop told Brigham Young University 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.”

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not name alleged sexual assault victims, but Denson has agreed to the use of her name.