What We Know About The Rape Allegation Against A Former LDS Church Leader
This week an audio recording was leaked between a woman and a man she accused of raping her in 1984. The man, Joseph Bishop, was serving in a leadership position for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time of the attack. In this explainer we'll walk you through the allegation, the LDS Church's reaction and the building evidence in support of the claims.
Updated 3/23 at 5:00 p.m.
What is the allegation?
A woman, who is choosing to remain anonymous, said that while she was a young missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was assaulted and raped by Joseph Bishop. She said this occured in 1984 while Bishop was the president of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. The MTC in Provo is where most Mormon missionaries are trained for a number of weeks or months before being sent to their assigned service area.
The woman said Bishop paid special attention to her as a young missionary-in-training. She said Bishop would often ask to meet with her one-on-one and in those encounters would divulge private and sexually explicit details about his life.
The attack happened in a small room in the basement of the MTC where Bishop would prepare for his official duties. She said there was a bed and TV in the room. It was there that Bishop attempted to kiss her and, when she resisted, ripped her blouse and skirt and raped her.
This account was shared with the Brigham Young University (BYU) Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the MTC, in November 2017 (see PDF at bottom of article). Bishop, who’s now 85, denies the rape allegation, but told BYU police last December that he did ask the woman to show him her breasts, which she did. When the police asked about why his account was different than the woman’s, he said that he either can’t remember it or her account is exaggerated.
This allegation came to public attention on Monday, March 19 when the website MormonLeaks published an audio recording of an interview between the woman and Bishop.
Where did the audio recording come from?
MormonLeaks is a whistleblower website inspired by Wikileaks aimed at exposing internal documents of the LDS Church and its leadership. It released an audio recording and transcript of a conversation between the woman and Joseph Bishop. The conversation took place in December 2017 in Arizona, where Bishop currently lives, and was secretly recorded.
When he agreed to speak with the woman, Bishop was under the impression the conversation was an interview about his service in the LDS Church. After 40 minutes of conversation, the woman tells Bishop about the rape and demands an apology. Bishop apologizes repeatedly for harm he caused, but does not admit to the rape.
At one point in the conversation, Bishop admits to molesting another female missionary who the woman knew. Bishop said that it occurred while the other missionary was living at Bishop’s home under special circumstances. Bishop described one instance in which he gave the woman a back rub that turned sexual. Bishop said he confessed all of this to past LDS Church authority Robert Wells.
The woman tells Bishop that shortly after the attack, she had an interview with Carlos Asay, who was serving as a top LDS Church authority at the time. Asay has since passed away. She said despite reporting the assault, Bishop was never formally disciplined and his standing in the church never questioned.
On Wednesday, March 21, MormonLeaks released a statement that the audio recording was released without consent from the woman who made it.
Who is Joseph Bishop?
Joseph Layton Bishop, Jr. is a former mission president for the LDS Church in Argentina, former president of Weber State College and former president of the Missionary Training Center. Bishop’s appointments to oversee a mission and the MTC are highly esteemed levels of service in the LDS Church and require approval and supervision from top church leadership.
Bishop’s son, Greg Bishop, has been acting as his attorney and spokesperson since this story came to light. Greg Bishop said that just days before the recorded conversation took place that his father underwent surgery following a heart attack. He said his father’s memory is also unreliable. He said it’s unclear if his father understood some of the words the woman used such as “molest” and “addiction.”
Greg Bishop said that conversations with his father are in line with what Bishop told BYU police, including the episode in which he asked the woman to expose her breasts to him during his time as MTC president.
What has the LDS Church done in response?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement in response to the allegation on Tuesday, March 20, the day after the MormonLeaks recording was released.
The spokesperson for the LDS Church, Eric Hawkins, said the allegations were first brought to the attention of the LDS Church in 2010. At that time, church leaders and police in Pleasant Grove, Utah, investigated. Unable to verify the allegations, no formal discipline followed. Hawkins wrote that the allegations are “very serious and deeply disturbing” and if true, would be a “tragic betrayal” of church standards and result in disciplinary action.
In an updated response released on Friday, March 23, Hawkins acknowledged the statement given to BYU Police and wrote that the LDS Church is looking into all allegations in the audio recording, including the second woman referenced by Bishop. "We are committed to bringing accountability for what has occurred," Hawkins wrote.
What is happening now?
An attorney for the woman, Craig Vernon, confirmed to KUER that they had been in settlement talks with the LDS Church until the news of the allegation broke this week. Since then, negotiations between the two parties has ceased. Vernon says if that door remains closed, his client plans to file a civil lawsuit against the church.