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Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Former Mormon Leader Accused Of Rape

Denson speaks at a podium alongside her lawyer.
Lee Hale / KUER
McKenna Denson (left) speaks at a press conference in April as she announced her lawsuit against Joseph Bishop and the LDS Church.

A federal judge in Utah has dismissed a sexual assault lawsuit against a former Missionary Training Center president due to the statute of limitations.

The case grabbed public attention in March with the release of an audio recording. In the tape, a woman named McKenna Denson accuses her former leader, Joseph Bishop, of raping her in 1984 at the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo. At the time, Bishop was the president of the MTC and Denson was a young missionary.

In the audio, which Denson secretly recorded, a now 85-year-old Bishop can be heard admitting to molesting at least one young missionary. He does not confess to the rape allegation. Denson went on to sue Bishop and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the alleged abuse.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Kimball determined that because the allegation took place in 1984, the time allowed to file a court case had already expired.

Denson's lawyer, Craig Vernon, had argued that a new statute of limitations should be established due to the 2017 audio recording. Vernon said that was when Bishop admitted some wrongdoing and Denson also learned the abuse may be have been more widespread.

Monday's ruling will not affect a separate lawsuit against the LDS Church, according to Vernon. Denson has accused church leaders of committing fraud by keeping Bishop in his role as president of the MTC despite her efforts to inform them of the abuse.

"The Church represented to McKenna Denson and others that Mr. Bishop was safe, that he was trustworthy, that he was not a sexual predator," Vernon said. "We believe that was a misrepresentation."

In a statement, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins responded to Monday's decision.

"Judge Kimball has dismissed three of the four claims involving the Church," Hawkins wrote. "He allowed one claim to remain so the parties can investigate its merits. We remain confident in the legal system to evaluate these claims and determine the truth. As the Church has repeatedly stated, there can be no tolerance for abuse."

Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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