SALT LAKE CITY – A woman’s lawsuit claiming she was raped by a Mormon church leader who was allowed to oversee young missionaries despite a history of sexual misconduct will go forward, a judge decided Monday.
The decision will allow McKenna Denson’s lawyers to investigate whether there are others who claim to be victims of Joseph L. Bishop, who oversaw hundreds of young people as president of the Missionary Training Center in the 1980s, or others in leadership positions, attorney Craig Vernon said.
“The church represented to McKenna and everybody else that he was good guy, he was safe and he was trustworthy, he was not a sexual predator, he was not a sexual addict,” Vernon said. “We believe there is evidence the church in fact knew that was not true.”
The Associated Press doesn’t usually name people who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Denson has said she wants her story to be public.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has disputed the allegations. Spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement Monday they are “confident in the legal system to evaluate these claims and determine the truth. As the Church has repeatedly stated, there can be no tolerance for abuse.”
The church had wanted the case dismissed because the allegations are 34 years old, meaning key witnesses are dead and evidence has disappeared.
U.S District Judge Dale Kimball did dismiss three of the four claims, including those that could have forced the faith to change how it handles abuse complaints, Vernon said. Kimball allowed a fraud claim to stand because Denson said she only discovered the cover-up when she confronted Bishop in December 2017.
Bishop told her that he’d confessed “incidents of sexual predation” to church leaders in the 1970s, before he was named to the role that gave him authority over hundreds of young Mormons preparing to go on church missions, Denson said.
Kimball also dismissed the claims against the now-85-year-old Bishop because the statute of limitations has passed.
Bishop has denied assaulting her, but he acknowledged he asked her to expose herself when she was 21, according to police documents.
Denson said she reported the assault several times over the past three decades, but the church failed to take action. The church has said Bishop wasn’t punished because he denied the allegations and church members could not verify them.
The case emerged with the release of a conversation Denson secretly recorded with Bishop in December. He is heard apologizing to Denson after she confronts him, though he didn’t specify what happened.