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Woman levels accusations against former MTC president

FILE - The Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
FILE - The Provo Missionary Training Center in Provo on Wednesday, July 26, 2017.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — The LDS Church is investigating a woman’s claim that a former president of the Missionary Training Center in Provo sexually assaulted her while she was a missionary there in 1984, an allegation that he denies.

The woman, who is 55, posed as a reporter in December to confront Joseph L. Bishop, 85, who served as MTC president from 1983-86 and as president of Weber State College in the 1970s. She told Bishop that he groomed her by making her feel special, then took her to a basement storage room in the MTC and attempted to rape her, an allegation she later said was rape.

The conversation, which she taped, and its 76-page transcript was released by a website called MormonLeaks run by a former member of the LDS Church. The woman told the Deseret News Monday that the tape was released without her permission. The Deseret News typically does not release the identity of alleged victims of sexual assault.

Bishop adamantly denied the allegations through his son, Gregory Bishop, who questioned the woman's credibility, saying she has accused 10 other men of sexual assault, sexual harassment or assault without charges being filed and has sought cash settlements in other cases. In 2010, she threatened to kill Bishop, according to police records and her own statements.

The woman goes by a different first name now than she did in 1984. During the taped conversation, Bishop remembered her once she shared her previous name but said he did not recall the events she described to him.

Bishop also denied the allegations in 2010, when the woman reported the alleged sexual assault to local church leaders in Pleasant Grove, according to a police report obtained by the Deseret News through a public records request.

That's when the allegations first came to the attention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a church statement. Her attorney provided the tape to the church in January.

"These allegations are very serious and deeply disturbing," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in the statement. "If the allegations of sexual assault are true, it would be a tragic betrayal of our standards and would result in action by the church to formally discipline any member who was guilty of such behavior, especially someone in a position of trust."

In an interview, the woman responded to the allegations by Bishop's son, noting she has a criminal history but she said those incidents are not relevant to her claim of rape against Bishop.

She contacted University police at BYU in November. Two detectives interviewed her on Dec. 4 in Colorado. They then interviewed Bishop at his home in Arizona. They presented their findings to the Utah County Attorney's Office, University Police Lt. Steven Messick said.

"I have no reason to doubt the victim’s disclosure, and would have likely prosecuted Mr. Bishop but for the expiration of the statute of limitations," deputy Utah County attorney David Sturgill said in a message to University police. The statute of limitations for rape expires after four years.

The church first investigated the allegations in 2010, when the woman, who by then had left the church, told local church leaders in Pleasant Grove about the alleged incident and allegedly threatened to shoot Bishop. They reported the allegations to the Pleasant Grove Police Department, Hawkins said. The police report corroborates Hawkins' statement.

"Contact was made with the suspect who recited a different version of the story," the police report states. "No further action was taken."

Some media reports have focused on different parts of the tape. Bishop appeared to admit sexual misconduct when the woman asked him about another missionary at the Missionary Training Center.

Greg Bishop dismissed the apparent admissions. He said his father had just been released from the hospital after treatment for a heart attack and was under medication when the woman traveled to Arizona to meet him, ostensibly for an article on mission presidents.

Since receiving the tape in January, "the church has engaged in an investigation of (her) allegations," Hawkins said. "In the course of that investigation, both she and Mr. Bishop have been interviewed by outside legal counsel. Not surprisingly, the stories, timelines and recollections of those involved are dramatically different. The woman reaffirmed her allegations, and Mr. Bishop has again denied them."

Hawkins said the church investigation is ongoing and that it will act in accordance with its long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse.

In 1994, late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley called sexual abuse a "terrible, vicious practice" and "a violation of that which is sacred and divine," adding that, "It is reprehensible and worthy of the most severe condemnation."

The woman told the Deseret News she first reported what she then considered an attempted rape in 1987 or 1988. She said church leaders sent Elder Carlos E. Asay, a member of the presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy from 1980-86, to speak to her.

Bishop told her during their taped conversation that Elder Asay never contacted him. Elder Asay died in 1999. Hawkins said the church can find no record of a meeting between the woman and Elder Asay.