2018 allegations of 1984 LDS missionary-trainees' abuse
Joseph Bishop is a former college president and mission president in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) who was accused in March 2018 of sexual abuse that was reported to have occurred in the 1980s. Bishop denied any non-consensual interactions.
In March 2018, MormonLeaks, a watchdog website, released a December 2, 2017 recording, taken in a Chandler, Arizona hotel conference room, of an interview of Bishop, then 85, by an unnamed 55-year-old woman from Colorado. In the recording, the woman, who first poses as a Latter-day Saint sectarian faith reporter, accuses Bishop of having abused her in January 1984, while he was president of the LDS Church's Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. She accused him of taking her to his private study with a day bed, tearing open her blouse and pulling up her skirt, and then attempting to rape her, which was prevented by his erectile dysfunction. The incident was reported widely, both locally and internationally, by news organizations such as the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Timeline: Accuser's reportages
The accuser may have reported the abuse to her subsequent Washington D.C. mission-field leader in 1984 or 1985. In 1987, she reported it to a her local congregation's bishop (or lay pastor), Brigham Young University microbiology professor Ron Leavitt. (Leavitt told the Salt Lake Tribune in 2018, "I felt the allegations were groundless" because, among other factors, of his assumption that potential MTC presidents receive extensive vettings.) Some reports indicate that what Leavitt was told was that the women and another missionary were taken by the MTC president to the basement of the MTC and shown pornography. The accuser says that in 1988 she told at least one LDS Church general authority, Carlos Asay. Assay has since passed away and the LDS Church states it has no record of the victim meeting with him.
In 2010, the accuser told her local Pleasant Grove, Utah ecclesiastical leaders, who referred the matter to local police. Pleasant Grove police made a routine call to the woman's home verifying she did not need emergency assistance and did not open an investigation of her accusations because they had occurred outside of Pleasant Grove's jurisdiction.
Within the recording, Bishop says he does not remember his interactions with the accuser transpiring in the manner she describes. Bishop says that while president over the MTC he engaged in inappropriate behaviors of which he regrets, involving more than one young woman missionaries-in-training, including having given a back rub that became "too frisky" to a young-woman once-missionary trainee who served as his and his wife's assistant at Bishop family's home. (This assistant to Bishop's family eventually reported her 1985 abuse by Bishop to her local lay pastor in 2010.)
Bishop said that some young women missionary trainees at the MTC would have flashbacks to previous experiences of sexual trauma and would counsel with MTC leaders (in worthiness interviews) for spiritual guidance; Bishop said he was "the last person who should have been" providing pastoral counseling to these young women. Bishop describes himself as a sex addict.
Bishop's attorney, his son Greg Bishop of Park City, Utah, told reporters that at the time of the interview Bishop was on medications and recovering from surgery and lacked mental acuity and that many of Bishop's statements in the recording reflect this confusion.
Greg Bishop said that sometime after the accuser returned to Provo from the Washington D.C. mission field, the accuser showed her breasts to Bishop without solicitation. Brigham Young University police say that, during their 2017 investigation, Bishop told them that at the MTC he asked the accuser to show him her breasts. (Greg Bishop says that his father does not remember making that statement to police.) The Utah County attorney's office said it likely would have prosecuted Bishop if the statute of limitations (which up until the 1990s in Utah had been four years for rape) had not expired. The case was closed December 23, 2017.
Greg Bishop gave reporters reports showing the history of investigations of the woman's accusations within various jurisdictions, as well as for alleged crimes such as criminal fraud. The accuser had reported over a half-dozen times that she was assaulted. These investigations say the woman later retracted her initial accusations on certain occasions as having been false. None of these accusations had not been prosecuted.
The accuser's legal counsel, Craig Vernon, made the LDS Church aware of the recording in January 2018. Settlement negotiations between the accuser and church where in progress when the recording was publicly released in March 2018 by MormonLeaks, which she had not initially authorized. but came to do so, after the fact. After the recording became public, the negotiations stalled and Vernon began preparing the accuser's civil suit against the church and Bishop.
Whether Bishop consented to the recording is unclear; even lacking such consent, the recording would likely be legal even in two-part consent states, owing to its intent to uncover abuse (albeit, the issue is moot because Arizona is a one-party consent state).)
LDS Church's responses
The church has not concluded its investigation into Bishop, which has involved hiring an outside law firm to interview both Bishop, his accusers, and others. The church had been made aware of a second accuser in 2010. No action was taken at the time due to Bishop's adamant denial of the accusations. Ron Leavitt, who served as an LDS young single adult ward bishop in the 1980s, has revealed that the woman who accused Bishop of rape told him in the 1980s that Bishop took her and her missionary companion to the basement of the MTC and showed them pornography. Leavitt has stated he did not share this information with anyone at the time.
In March 2018, the LDS Church publicized its abuse resource hotline for use by local ecclesiastical leaders living in the U.S. and Canada. It also released a resource document that says, in part, "Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”
- Debate on the causes of clerical child abuse
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