Years-old sexual abuse allegations against a former Mormon missionary leader were published on a whistleblowing website this week, prompting a public pledge from the Utah-based church that it would discipline the alleged perpetrator if the claims were found to be true.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement Tuesday that it is looking into “deeply disturbing” allegations against Joseph Bishop, who served as president of a Mormon missionary training center in Provo, Utah, in the 1980s.
A 55-year-old woman has accused Bishop of sexually assaulting her in 1984 while she was training to be a missionary. The woman claims Bishop raped her at the center, according to a Brigham Young University police report obtained by HuffPost. The woman’s name has not been disclosed in the press or in the police report.
Bishop was the president at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo from 1983 to 1986. An MTC is where the LDS church trains thousands of young men and women before they are sent out as missionaries to countries across the world.
“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,” the church said in its statement.
The church’s statement came days after a taped conversation between Bishop and the woman was posted to MormonLeaks, a website started by ex-Mormons seeking to increase transparency within the LDS church.
Last December, the woman posed as a reporter and secretly recorded an interview she had with Bishop in Arizona. During the wide-ranging conversation, she asked Bishop questions about the alleged assault and about other women he may have harassed. The Mormon leader, who is now 85 years old, can be heard saying he doesn’t remember assaulting the woman and muses that maybe it’s “because my mind doesn’t want me to remember that.”
At one point in the interview, the woman asked if Bishop molested another Mormon woman at the MTC. He admits that he gave one woman a back rub that got too “frisky.”
He apologizes repeatedly in the recording and says that for years he has struggled with a “sexual addiction.”
“I am very, very sorry and I am so sorry. I don’t know if I can even be forgiven on your side,” Bishop tells the woman in the recording.
The woman also contacted Brigham Young University police in November to report her alleged assault. According to that police report, Bishop denied the rape allegations but told detectives that he’d gone with the woman to a small “preparation room” and while talking with her “asked her to show him her breasts, which she did.”
BYU police relayed the facts of the case to the Utah County attorney’s office. Deputy attorney David Sturgill replied that he could not pursue criminal charges against Bishop because the statute of limitations had expired four years after the alleged assault.
“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,” Sturgill informed BYU police, according to the police report.
BYU police closed their investigation into the assault on Dec. 23.
The woman told the LDS church-owned Deseret News that she first reported the assault to church officials around 1988. The church’s official statement on Tuesday claimed officials became aware of the alleged assault in 2010, when the woman informed leaders of a Mormon congregation in Pleasant Grove, Utah, where she was living.
The LDS church claims the leaders “listened carefully to the claims being made” and then relayed them to the Pleasant Grove Police Department. The church claims it received no further communication from the police about the matter. Church leaders also contacted Bishop, who denied the allegations. Unable to verify the woman’s claims, the church said it decided not to discipline Bishop at the time.
In January, the woman’s lawyer forwarded the recorded conversation to the LDS church. The church claims both the woman and Bishop were then interviewed about the allegations. Both parties reaffirmed their positions and appeared to have “dramatically” different recollections of what happened in 1984.
Bishop’s family claims that the woman who made the accusations is untrustworthy and has falsely accused other men of sexual assault. His son, Greg Bishop, said his father was confused during the woman’s interview, since he was recovering from a heart surgery that took place two days earlier.
The son added that when his father admitted to having a “sexual addiction,” he was referring to a lifelong battle with “controlling” his “sexual thoughts.”
“Those people who know dad don’t put much credence in these allegations,” Greg Bishop told the AP.
The church cautioned in its statement that it does not have the “investigative tools” available to law enforcement agencies to conduct a thorough review of the matter, but pledged to keep Bishop accountable for any misconduct.
“The Church is continuing its investigation of this individual’s claims and will act consistent with its long-standing policy of no tolerance for abuse.”
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