Mormon church urges judge to toss 1984 sex-assault claim

McKenna Denson speaks with reporters during a news conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 5, 2018. Denson, who accused a former Mormon missionary training center director of raping her in the 1980s and the church of failing to take her allegations seriously, has sued the man and the church. | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon church lawyers asked a judge Wednesday to toss out a lawsuit from a woman who says she was raped in the 1980s by a former Mormon missionary leader who held the powerful position even though church officials knew he had a history of sexual misconduct.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denies those allegations, and attorneys argue her case should be dismissed because key witnesses are dead and evidence has disappeared over the last 34 years.

McKenna Denson, right, receives a hug from supporter Jenea Gillespie, left, after speaking with reporters during a news conference, April 5, 2018, in Salt Lake City. | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

“One needs to take the rights of the accused seriously,” said Andrew Deiss, a lawyer for the former leader, Joseph L. Bishop. He said his client is now an 85-year-old man who may not be able to fully defend himself.

No date was immediately set for U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball to rule.

Lawyers for McKenna Denson pushed back against church attorneys, saying she didn’t know until last year that leaders had covered up Bishop’s 1970s confession about his “acts of sexual predation.” Bishop disputes those allegations and denies raping the woman when she was 21, but has acknowledged he asked her to expose herself, according to police documents.

“This is about sexual predatory behavior, and victim shaming and people not feeling like they have a voice. But they have a voice. They have a global platform,” Denson said after the hearing.

The Associated Press doesn’t usually name alleged victims of sexual assault, but Denson has decided to go public with her story, saying she wants the lawsuit to help change the way the faith handles sexual abuse reports.

Church attorney David Jordan said courts shouldn’t decide how religious leaders deal with such complaints. “No church owes an obligation to a plaintiff who is claiming sexual assault to take disciplinary action,” he said.

Denson says she reported the assault several times over the past three decades but the church failed to take disciplinary action. The church has said Bishop wasn’t punished because he denied the allegations and church members could not verify them.

Church lawyers are citing Denson’s efforts as they ask to have her case dismissed, arguing her repeated reports show she could have sued earlier but didn’t.

“Her own allegations reveal she knew she was ignored,” Jordan said.

The case emerged with the release of a conversation Denson secretly recorded with Bishop in December, where he is heard apologizing to Denson after she confronts him, though didn’t specify what happened.

The role Bishop served as head of the Missionary Training Center in Provo from 1983 to 1986 gave him authority over hundreds of young Mormons preparing to go on church missions.

Written by LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Chris July 19, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    Attention seeker

    • DRT July 20, 2018 at 7:59 am

      While I tend to think along those same lines, I sincerely hope that all the notoriety over this will cause some LDS folks to stop and think for a bit before they do something stupid. Actually not just LDS but religious leaders everywhere.
      I remember all the Catholic jokes about priests years ago. The Catholic Church has finally figured out that it’s an expensive thing to joke about. I see nothing to joke about regarding sexual assault.

  • statusquo July 20, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Many states have “failure to report crime” laws on the books that would apply to any religious organization aware of criminal activity. I’m guessing the Mormon Church is not off the hook in this regard.

    • DRT July 20, 2018 at 12:51 pm

      Perhaps, for those incidents that didn’t happen in Utah. But if it happened here, then forget about it. Of course, in at least this case, the time lapse between time of crime and reporting, would likely bar prosecution due to statute of limitations.

  • jaltair July 20, 2018 at 10:10 pm

    The LDS Church is probably right in this instance being that the guy is 85, but I feel the woman has a right to have her complaint heard even after all these years. The jury should decide.

    Maybe the LDS Church should hear her formally and not be judgemental towards her. Most women who are sexually assaulted as younger people need to seek out the perpetrator and confront them to have a resolution within themselves. The 85-year-old should be there to hear her as well.

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