SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Attorneys for the woman at the center of a lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are responding to the church’s motion to dismiss.
McKenna Denson claims Joseph Bishop, former president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo, raped her in 1984 when she was a sister missionary. She’s suing the church for emotional distress caused by the assault. Her attorney, Craig Vernon, claims in his response to the motion to dismiss that the church acted fraudulently by knowingly concealing its knowledge of Bishop’s alleged past abuse of women.
Vernon calls it “an epic betrayal of institutional trust.”
The response argues the motion to dismiss the case should be denied because “…Defendants concealed the fact that Defendant Bishop was a sexual predator and had a long history of sexual improprieties prior to his tenure as MTC President. Defendants represented to Plaintiff just the opposite; that the MTC President was safe, trustworthy and not a sexual predator.”
That “fraud,” as Vernon’s response calls it, wasn’t known to Denson until 2017, when she secretly recorded a conversation with Bishop – in which he admitted to inappropriate behavior with women. That audio was released by MormonLeaks in March.
According to the response, filed in federal court Tuesday, Bishop had confessed “red flag sexual improprieties” to his ecclesiastical leaders while he was a young missionary in Argentina, while serving in an LDS bishopric in Florida and during his time as a mission president in Argentina in the 1970s.
The statement claims that during Bishop’s tenure as a mission president, he “counseled one of his sister missionaries who was ‘besieged with evil spirits.’ According to Bishop, those evil spirits then attacked him,” the response says. “Frightened, and in an effort to ‘save his soul,’ he decided to confess or disclose all of his previous sins.”
The response goes on to claim Bishop confessed to the person in charge of the church’s activities in that area of Argentina, Elder Robert E. Wells.
Having knowledge of his “sexual improprieties,” the church still “elevated” Bishop to the position of MTC president, the statement claims.
The LDS Church declined to comment on the response to its motion to dismiss, but released this statement after the lawsuit was filed:
“Our hearts ache for all survivors of abuse, and the Church is committed to addressing incidents of abuse wherever they are found. As this is now an active legal matter, we are unable to make further comment at this time. We are confident that the legal system will ensure a just result in this case.”
The motion to dismiss comes as the Utah Supreme Court weighs whether sexual assault claims that have expired could be re-opened, under a new and longer statute of limitations.