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Retired Mormon mission president admits he molested a female missionary

A former missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has accused a Mormon church leader of sexual misconduct; a recorded interview suggests he denies her allegation of rape but admits to unspecified sexual misconduct with other women, including at least one other missionary. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

(RNS) — The former head of the main Missionary Training Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has admitted to molesting at least one female missionary while president of the institution based in Provo, Utah, according to MormonLeaks.

According to an interview released Monday (March 19) on the transparency website, a man who identifies himself as former MTC president Joseph L. Bishop, who is now in his mid-80s, admits to a history of sexual misconduct, though he rejects the specific accusation of attempted rape.

The interview was conducted in December 2017 by a woman who initially represented herself as a writer researching the careers of LDS leaders. Partway through the interview, she confronts Bishop with the allegation that he tried to rape her in a storage room in 1984. He admits that he had a long-standing “sexual addiction” and that he had “struggled my whole life” with it, but does not confess to that specific rape.

He indicates nearly an hour into the interview that some sister missionaries, upon arriving at the MTC, began having flashbacks to previous experiences of sexual trauma, and they would pray and ask leaders for help in putting it behind them. Bishop says he was “the last person who should have been” in leadership over those vulnerable women.

Ryan McKnight, the founder of MormonLeaks, declined to comment on how his organization received the document, which he said was released to the public because of “its relevance to the current discussion of ecclesiastical abuse,” though it is not his goal to “place the blame on any one individual or institution.”

“These allegations are very serious and deeply disturbing,” said LDS spokesman Eric Hawkins. “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 a statement, the LDS church says it reported the allegations to the police in 2010, and that the matter was investigated at that time. The church said it also conducted its own internal inquiry and decided against disciplinary actions against Bishop, after leaders were “unable to verify the allegations.”

The church posted its full response on its Newsroom website.

Bishop’s son Greg, a lawyer, released a statement and copies of police reports that cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser, saying she “has a long history of false accusations and criminal activity.” The documents suggest the accuser may have been previously involved in cases of fraud and identity theft.

Before his retirement, Bishop’s leadership responsibilities included serving as president of the Buenos Aires North Mission, president of Weber State University in Utah, and MTC president in the 1980s. He is also the author of several devotional and motivational books for a Mormon audience.

One of Joseph L. Bishop’s books, which does not appear to be available any longer at deseretbook.com.

A search for his works on the website of Deseret Book, the church’s official publisher and book retailer, Tuesday resulted in an error message stating that “the page you were looking for does not exist.”

A 76-page transcript of the interview, which lasted more than two and a half hours, was posted on MormonLeaks, along with the audio recording.

In it, Bishop does not appear in the beginning of the conversation to recognize the interviewer, greeting her with “nice to meet you” and offering background into his decades of LDS leadership.

At 43 minutes into the interview (on page 24 of the transcript), the interviewer drops the bombshell. She says that when she was a missionary in the MTC in January 1984, she was “groomed” and then sexually assaulted by Bishop, who was then the center’s president. Bishop had counseled with her about the fact that before she left for her mission, her stepfather had been “violently sexually abusive,” and Bishop had helped her to understand that the abuse was not her fault. However, according to her, Bishop didn’t stop there:

Interviewer: But you also kind of groomed me, a little bit, and you took me down into the basement, it wasn’t really a basement, but it was downstairs, a little storage room.

Joseph Bishop: Mm-hmm.

Interviewer: I’m not angry with you, because I think …

Joseph Bishop: You ought to be …

Interviewer: Well maybe, but I’m not. I’m over a lot of things that have happened to me. But you hurt me. And I need an apology.

Joseph Bishop: Well I apologize, from the depths of my heart, I can’t remember what it was but I’m …

Interviewer: Okay, let’s go back a little bit, and I’ll tell you, because …

Joseph Bishop: Well yeah, tell me.

Interviewer: I have struggled for 33 years with what you did to me. And I am only interested in an apology. I reported what you did to me to Elder Asay. [Most likely this refers to Carlos E. Asay, who was a general authority of the LDS Church from 1976 to 1996. He died in 1999.] Do you remember him?

Joseph Bishop: Oh yeah.

Interviewer: Quorum of the Seventy. Did he ever talk to you?

Joseph Bishop: No.

Interviewer: Did anybody from Salt Lake ever tell you that you were accused of sexual assault?

Joseph Bishop: No.

Interviewer: You were never disfellowshipped, had a council?

Joseph Bishop: I felt I’d repented. I’d confessed.

Interviewer: Oh.

Joseph Bishop: That time.

Interviewer: You confessed about me?

Joseph Bishop: That I don’t know about . . . I confessed all of my sins to Elder Wells when I was in the mission. But anyway, let me apologize.

In the next few minutes of the interview, Bishop does appear to remember some aspects of her story and their conversations in the MTC, although he says he does not recall the attempted rape in the storage room, which the interviewer claims he had not been able to complete because he could not maintain an erection.

Bishop appears to acknowledge in the conversation that while the interviewer was a missionary he discussed with her some sexual preferences he had with his wife, as well as a previous encounter with another woman who had removed her bikini top in front of him.

“The fact that I was a missionary, and you were my mission president, and you were sharing that was the problem,” she says.

“That’s true,” he concedes.

Then she raises the #metoo question: “So, how many other women are there? How many other missionaries? How many other young women in the Church have been destroyed like me?”

He says he remembers one woman from when he was a congregational leader, as well as one other missionary who served alongside the interviewer at the same time she was in the MTC. When the interviewer asks, “Did you molest her?” Bishop answers simply, “Yes.”

Bishop does not explain what he means by admitting to molestation, however. He claims that the sister missionary in question initiated physical contact by requesting a back rub, which he provided, and then things got “frisky.”

Any physical contact between a female missionary and a male mission president more than three decades her senior would be cause for alarm among Mormons, who are expected to adhere to strict sexual standards.

Whatever he may have done, it’s clear from the interview that Bishop himself feels he was in the wrong, since he apologizes repeatedly for his past behavior with women and says, “I hope I don’t get excommunicated because of it.”

An hour and a half into the interview, he pleads with the interviewer not to expose him.

My big concern is the pain that’s going to take place. With all of my family, who love me. I have five sons who would be devastated. Their wives will be devastated. My grandchildren will be devastated. My great-grandchildren.

He also suggests that he’s already repented for his past. “I paid,” he tells the interviewer. “I’m so sorry. I am so so sorry.”


Update, March 21: After the deadline for this story yesterday, I was able to interview Greg Bishop, Joseph Bishop’s attorney and son.

He says his father did not realize the December interview in question was being recorded. “Ms. [_] told my dad that she was a reporter affiliated with an LDS magazine or the LDS Church, and that she was doing a story on mission presidents,” he said. “Obviously, the first 45 minutes or so of the tape is her pretending to be that reporter, and then she morphs to her true purpose, which was ostensibly to receive an apology because he had done something to offend her.”

Greg Bishop provided journalists with several supporting documents from police records in multiple states, and says his family is consulting with an attorney about whether to release those records to the general public. They are also considering the possibility of a defamation lawsuit.

Greg Bishop challenges the timeline the interviewer presents in her version of the story, saying the 1984 dates of her time in the MTC (January to April of 1984) don’t coincide with the 1985 residence of the other sister missionary she claims was there at the same time and was molested by his father.

He also reports that his father is “in general of sound mind,” but “he has memory issues, and he is easily confused.” Just days before the recorded interview, he was released from the hospital after a history of heart problems and a very recent heart attack. Bishop believes his father was misled in the interview because he was in a vulnerable physical state, and appeared to confess to things he did not actually do.

— JKR


Related posts:

On Rob Porter, Mormonism, and siding with the abuser

Mormon statement on child abuse: Move along, folks, we don’t have a problem

Dismantling Mormon purity culture

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

32 Comments

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  • I’m puzzled by how Bishop thinks that “he’s paid,” in large part because I thought that an indispensable aspect of the repentance process included “making restitution.” Sounds like Bishop never bothered to seek out and apologize to any of his victims. Is he sorry now only because his family will be embarrassed?

  • He says the family is considering with their attorney whether to make the police documents public.

  • It is quite evident that some men regardless of position, degree of faith, no faith at all, or particular affiliation of whatever kind, are prone to, or unable to contain, sexual inclinations that are patently improper. This does not excuse such conduct in any way, it is merely a realistic assessment of human nature.

  • Either the members hold their leaders feet to the fire over Bishop interviews and transparency or they too are complicit. This isn’t a church. It’s a corporation with a vast legal team to defend it against such accusations. Just read today’s press release from the church. At no point do THEY apologize or take any responsibility.

  • What bothers me is that he seems to worry only about himself and his family. Does he give a thought to the lives of the women he has destroyed? And the statement of the church talks about the betrayal of standards. What about the betrayal of trust that the young women experienced?

  • He also suggests that he’s already repented for his past. “I paid,” he tells the interviewer. “I’m so sorry. I am so so sorry.”

    Christianity, including Mormonism, holds that sins are committed against God rather than against people. This leaves believers feeling that they are only accountable to a God who automatically forgives them when they repent, not to individuals or society. The criminal’s motto: “Only God can judge me.”

  • After 4 years of graduate seminary, I’m not aware of any denomination or sect that teaches the sins are only commintted against God. In Matt 18:15, it is Jesus who says “If your brother sins against you…”

  • Your article states that “Bishop’s son Greg, a lawyer, **released** a statement and copies of police reports that cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser…”

    Which is it? Have a statement and copies of police reports been “released” (and if so, where can the public see them?) or does Bishop’s son Greg merely claim to have a statement and police reports that haven’t yet been released?

    These represent two vastly different situations and I don’t think it would be a bad idea to correct the article as needed to accurately reflect the current situation.

  • Did anyone (you, other reporters) ask Greg Bishop how he felt about revictimizing the victim? Because that’s what it looks like to me.

    To be honest, without his evidence in front of me, I wouldn’t have reported on what Greg Bishop had to say. Right now he’s just a son defending his father and his words shouldn’t be given undue weight unless he has something to offer that goes to the substance of the accusations.

    Deana M. Holmes

  • From Gospel Principles, a lesson manual for classes for new members: “Part of repentance is to make restitution. This means that as much as possible we must make right any wrong that we have done. For example, a thief should give back what he has stolen. A liar should make the truth known. A gossip who has slandered the character of a person should work to restore the good name of the person he has harmed.”

    Restitution to the person you have harmed is one of the basic steps of repentance that has been repeated over and over since at least Joseph F. Smith. It is in primary manuals, missionary lessons, talks, magazines, etc. In short, Mormons (and I believe most Christians) teach that an offense against another is an offense against God, but that does not erase the offense against the person.

  • Apparently Bishop should have taken to heart the words of Richard G. Scott: “Confession of sin. You always need to confess your sins to the Lord. If they are serious transgressions, such as immorality, they need to be confessed to a bishop or stake president. Please understand that confession is not repentance. It is an essential step, but is not of itself adequate. Partial confession by mentioning lesser mistakes will not help you resolve a more serious, undisclosed transgression. Essential to forgiveness is a willingness to fully disclose to the Lord and, where necessary, His priesthood judge all that you have done. Remember, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.”12

    Restitution for sin. You must restore as far as possible all that which is stolen, damaged, or defiled. Willing restitution is concrete evidence to the Lord that you are committed to do all you can to repent.”

    Edit: More from Elder Scott: “Do not take comfort in the fact that your transgressions are not known by others. That is like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. He sees only darkness and feels comfortably hidden. In reality he is ridiculously conspicuous. Likewise our every act is seen by our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. They know everything about us.”

    Committing physical and sexual abuse are major sins. Such grave sins require deep repentance to be forgiven. President Kimball taught: “To every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin.”17 “It is unthinkable that God absolves serious sins upon a few requests. He is likely to wait until there has been long, sustained repentance.”18

    If you have seriously transgressed, you will not find any lasting satisfaction or comfort in what you have done. Excusing transgression with a cover-up may appear to fix the problem, but it does not. The tempter is intent on making public your most embarrassing acts at the most harmful time. Lies weave a pattern that is ever more confining and becomes a trap that Satan will spring to your detriment.”

  • Please redact the name of the accuser in the March 21 update. I don’t believe the victim has consented to have her identity revealed at this time.

  • I would think an apology is in order for publishing her name. Especially in an article critical of how others have and are treating her. Posting her name is a rather serious thing, and I can’t help but think that if someone else had done it, they would be called out for further victimizing this woman.

  • True, but the larger, and some think, the more important point is the hypocrisy of the “christian morals” that seem to escape them at the time of their groping, fondling, assaulting and raping.

  • The reactions and statements of the LDS church are the typical pious, self-serving nonsense we’ve seen over and over again from religious organizations when they are “outed”.

  • AMEN! Preach it, brother. I’ve spoken to several ex-Mormons who tell me the church has been a fraud from the outset. Golden plates? Seer stone? Revelations from god? Yeah, sure.

  • Seems like an attempt to fill in facts missing from the discussion without stating as fact questions that are still under investigation.

  • It’s not clear to me what you mean. However, consider this excerpt from an article in SLTrib by Peggy Fletcher Stack:

    Bishop…repeatedly apologized, describing himself as a predator and
    saying he had confessed to other sexual misconduct …

    I’d love to read the material released by lawyer Greg Bishop. Do you know where I can find this info?

  • I mean that the statement is pretty deliberate about trying to not come to any conclusion one way or another. The statement says that the Church is taking the allegation seriously, makes a comment about how terrible it is if it proves true, but avoids coming to the conclusion that the allegations are true, since Bishop denies the rape allegation. Bishop has apparently confessed to other misconduct, but I don’t think any organization investigating wrongdoing (including, for example, the current special prosecutor for Trump) would be wise to comment on credibility, guilt or innocence until the active investigation is complete.

  • I think what you say is reasonable. It is unreasonable to jump on statements and draw a conclusion, one way or the other, until an investigation has been done.

    That said…it will be especially interesting to see what the church concludes, and what actions it takes–or does not take. It strikes me as highly unlikely that the church was not informed of his actions in past years, or did not know. This is a tattle-tale church that seems to know everyone’s business (FBI agents etc), so is it really possible that no one complained about Bishop (etc) Bishop? That the church did not know of his predilictions? And that he never confessed them to *his* bishop?

  • I think the past few years have demonstrated that people can be guilty of serious sexual misconduct and the people closest to them not know about it. At least one bishop was aware of the accusations in 1988, but dismissed them as implausible (perhaps the best thing to come out of the metoo movement is that people will hopefully be less inclined to dismiss allegations like this), but he said he did not contact anyone else about it. The Church said it became institutionally aware of the allegations in 2010, but could not corroborate the story, so it could not do anything. I predict that with the recording, confession to BYU, and other evidence that was made available more recently, Bishop will likely receive some sort of formal discipline, even if the rape allegation doesn’t stick.

  • My best guess/understanding of how religion organizations deal with serious charges against their people–folks with some kind of position or responsibility, as opposed to the *untermenschen*–is that they try to cover them up unless or until they are too public to ignore or deny, and only then do they take action. This has been the case with the Catholic church, for example, and a few Prot denoms. I think ALL religion organizations are interested first and foremost in protecting themselves, and admitting problems only when they are caught red-handed.

    Can you find a link to the material that lawyer son Greg Bishop posted?

  • Well, I have a lot of experience with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including some legal proceedings against the Church. My experience is that the Church has a tendency to take action quickly, but quietly upon receiving credible information.

    Greg Bishop’s material is reported in various news articles. I’m unaware of any single source.

  • Just a reminder out there for anybody who has the ability to care, it’s not always men abusing power. Women abuse boys, but in that case, it isn’t taken seriously.

  • Few people, men or women, are without some moral code that guides them; I can appreciate the scorn that people have for Christians or “Christians” who fail egregiously to live up to their proper moral responsibilities. My broader point is that the particular issue is common (in the most limited sense) to all classes and categories of men…and even a few women.

  • And some children abuse other children. Neither of these facts have anything to do with the topic at hand.

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