The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is investigating sexual assault allegations against former Provo Missionary Training Center President Joseph L. Bishop.
Two women who served as missionaries in 1984 and 1985 while Bishop was MTC president have accused him of sexually assaulting them while they trained in the MTC.
According to Deseret News, Bishop served as the MTC president from 1983 to 1986. The first woman, now 55, confronted Bishop, 85, in December, posing as a reporter and recording the conversation. During the conversation, she told Bishop how he groomed her by flattering her and making her feel special and later took her to a basement storage room in the MTC, where he attempted to rape her. She later said Bishop did rape her.
The conversation and the 76-page transcript was released by the website MormonLeaks. The woman told Deseret News she did not give the website permission to leak the transcript and recording.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Bishop denied the allegations of rape himself and through his son, Gregory Bishop. During his conversation with the woman, he said he did not remember the assault but did describe himself as a predator and admitted to other sexual misconduct with another missionary, the second woman Bishop allegedly abused.
In a statement on March 23, the Church said, “We are aware of one other woman (who is referenced in the December recording) who informed her local ecclesiastical leaders that she was sexually abused by Joseph Bishop while he served as president of the Missionary Training Center. When she reported the alleged abuse to her local Church leaders in 2010, they provided emotional support as well as professional counseling services. Mr. Bishop’s local ecclesiastical leaders were contacted and they confronted him with her claims, which he denied, and local leaders did not feel they could pursue Church discipline for Mr. Bishop.”
According to Deseret News, three days after the recorded conversation took place, Bishop told BYU police that he brought a sister missionary to a small room in the MTC and asked her to expose her breasts in 1984, but denied the rape allegations.
Sgt. Robert Nelson wrote in a report that Bishop’s account was similar to the first woman, with the exception of the alleged rape and the layout of the room. When asked why their accounts differed about the rape allegations, Bishop responded by saying he either did not remember or the woman was exaggerating.
According to KUTV, the first woman told detectives the room had a bed, TV and VHS tapes. Bishop said it did not. A former employee of the MTC contacted KUTV and told them that a room similar to the woman’s description did exist in a basement of one of the buildings in the MTC.
David Sturgill, deputy Utah County attorney, said no criminal charges can be brought up against Bishop because statute of limitations for rape was four years in 1984. Sturgill said he has no reason to doubt the allegations and would have charged Bishop were it not for the statute of limitations.
Utah has since changed the law, and rape can now be prosecuted as criminal cases at any time after 2013. Fox 13 reported civil suits can be pursued long after the statute of limitations have passed, due to a law recently passed by the Utah State Legislature.
Fox 13 reported reported that the first woman is pursuing a civil suit against the Church. The attorney representing the woman told Fox 13 that before news broke out of the alleged abuse, he was in settlement talks with the Church. Since then, there have been no talks.
“If the settlement discussion door remains closed, then a lawsuit against the Church and Mr. Bishop is our remaining option,” the woman’sattorney said.
The Church responded to the news in a statement on March 20 and then updated their statement on March 23. The Church called the allegations disturbing and, if true, a tragic betrayal of its standards. The Church first found out about these allegations in 2010 when the first woman told leaders of the Pleasant Grove Utah West Stake about the alleged assault.
The Church listened to the allegations and told the Pleasant Grove Police Department, and the department interviewed her at that time. The Church had no communication with the department after this.
At the same time, the Church contacted Bishop’s local ecclesiastical leaders. Bishop denied these allegations. The Church was not able to verify these allegations, so no formal action was taken.
The matter resurfaced more recently in January when the woman’s lawyer contacted the Church and provided the recording of her and Bishop. Since then, the Church has launched an investigation into the allegations. Both the woman and Bishop have been interviewed by outside counsel. In these interviews, the stories, timelines and general recollections differed dramatically.
In the updated statement, the Church said, “We share the anger and distress Church members and others feel to learn of incidents where those entrusted with sacred responsibilities violate God’s commandments and harm others. Such behavior is repulsive and sinful. The Church is looking into all aspects of the assertions on the recording of Joseph Bishop. This includes the work of outside legal counsel, who are interviewing priesthood leaders, family members, law enforcement officials and others with knowledge of these incidents.”
The Church has a long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse. According to the Church website, abuse in any form is condemned and “in total opposition to the teachings of the Savior.”
Mormon Newsroom states, “The Church has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind, including child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse or child pornography, and anyone engaged in these practices would rightly face both criminal prosecution and Church discipline.”