SALT LAKE CITY — A Colorado woman who alleges a Missionary Training Center president raped her in 1984 should have raised her pending legal claims more than 30 years ago, LDS Church lawyers told a federal judge Wednesday.
But McKenna Denson said she only learned about Joseph L. Bishop’s alleged sexual past and the church’s alleged attempt to hide it in December 2017.
“Did I know that he raped me? Yes. Did I know that the church covered it up? No. Did I know that Joseph Bishop had already reported his sexual predation and his sexual addictions to a general authority before that? No,” Denson said after an hourlong hearing in U.S. District Court.
Denson claims Bishop, of Chandler, Arizona, raped her while she was a missionary at the Provo-based MTC in 1984. Bishop has denied the allegations.
Denson, 55, is suing Bishop and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for sexual assault and battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure and fraudulent concealment.
The church and Bishop asked Judge Dale Kimball to dismiss Denson’s lawsuit because the statute of limitations on her sexual assault claim expired in 1985, one year after the alleged rape, and her emotional distress and fraud claims expired in early 1988.
Kimball, who asked few questions during the hearing, took the arguments under advisement and said he would issue a written decision in “due course.”
“We have confidence that the court will ultimately reach a just resolution in this case,” LDS Church attorney David Jordan said in a statement after the hearing.
Jordan contends Denson knew after the alleged rape that Bishop wasn’t “safe, honorable and trustworthy” as she said in her lawsuit she believed by virtue of his position as MTC president.
“All those things she knew,” Jordan told the judge. “She had every right to file a claim as early as 1984 when she says she was abused.”
Bishop’s attorney, Andrew Deiss, said Denson knew Bishop wasn’t a “godly man” after he told her in the MTC about past sexual encounters with his wife and other women.
Deiss told the judge that the statute of limitations can feel harsh but the rights of the accused must be taken seriously. Bishop, he said, is 85 years old, a key witness is dead, documents are gone and memories fade or change over time.
Craig Vernon, Denson’s attorney, argued that Denson and Bishop are alive as is Elder Robert E. Wells, a now 90-year-old general authority of the church to whom Vernon said Bishop confessed his sexual sins in 1977.
Bishop served as MTC president from 1983 to 1986 and as president of Weber State College in the 1970s.
The lawsuit claims Denson made 10 reports about the sexual assault to various LDS leaders over the years without learning if any investigation had taken place.
“She was stonewalled. She was stonewalled. She was stonewalled,” Vernon said in court.
Denson posed as a reporter to confront Bishop last December when she said the former MTC president told her about his sexual history and addiction. Her interview became public when a website released their taped conversation and its 76-page transcript.
The suit asks for a jury trial seeking damages for loss of earnings and to pay for medical and legal expenses. It also asks that a jury direct the church to change its policies about sexual assault reporting.
Jordan told the judge courts are not enforcers of internal church policies but are enforcers of law. He said that would entangle the court in a church’s religious policies and free speech issues.
Denson lawyer Jeff Oritt said after the hearing that fraud, fraudulent concealment and negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress are matters of law that the court enforces.