Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

LDS sex abuse scandal: Here’s what we know so far

Two LDS sister missionaries enjoy the fresh air while they study at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. ©2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Two LDS sister missionaries enjoy the fresh air while they study at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. ©2017 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

Last week, the LDS Church was rocked by an unfolding sex abuse scandal that involved allegations by at least one former missionary against Joseph L. Bishop, the president of the Provo Missionary Training Center in the mid-1980s.

Just to recap, here’s a day-by-day overview of what has come to light:

Monday, March 19: MormonLeaks posts an audio and transcript (without full permission to do so) that seems to show Bishop admitting that he molested a female missionary [Victim 2] during his tenure at the MTC.

The tape, recorded in early December 2017, is of him being confronted by another former sister missionary [Victim 1] who claims he tried to rape her in a basement room of the MTC, a charge he denies. He does, however, admit on the tape that he has a sexual addiction he has struggled with his whole adult life.

Tuesday, March 20: The firestorm begins. RNS posts its initial coverage based on the content of the audio and transcript. The LDS Church issues a statement that it investigated Victim 1’s claims in 2010 and found no evidence for them, and strongly suggests (but does not state outright) that the claims are false.

Joseph Bishop’s son releases documents to the media to contend that Victim 1 has a colorful police history, further casting doubt on her story.

Wednesday, March 21: The BYU police department releases an unredacted report from December 2017, written just a few days after Victim 1 had confronted Bishop and secretly recorded their conversation. The Salt Lake Tribune breaks the story that according to what Bishop admitted to the BYU police, several of Victim 1’s accusations appear to be true: Bishop did lead her downstairs at the MTC to a private room, where he asked her to expose her breasts to him.

The county attorney says that from this evidence, he would have prosecuted Bishop, but the statute of limitations had long since expired by the time this came to his attention in 2017.

Thursday, March 22: An LDS bishop who served from 1979 to 1985 affirms that Victim 1 told him in 1984, when he was her bishop, that the MTC president had led her and another female missionary [presumably Victim 2] down to the basement of the MTC and showed them pornography. The local bishop did not give this allegation any credence at the time, he told KUTV, because he “wasn’t going to risk sullying the reputation of someone based on that kind of a report.”

In a separate story, KUTV also reveals that a former employee who worked at the MTC in the early 1980s confirms that the basement room in question did have a bed, a TV, and a VCR, details that were integral to Victim 1’s allegations but were denied by Joseph Bishop.

Friday, March 23: The LDS Church releases a more strongly worded statement, calling sexual abuse “repulsive and sinful” and noting that it is now investigating a second charge against Bishop. Victim 2, it says, received counseling and support from her local LDS leaders in 2010 when she apparently again reported the abuse.

It would seem that Victim 2 reported her abuse in 1984 and in 2010, at least, while Victim 1 reported hers in the mid-1980s, in 2010, and again in 2017. The Church apparently investigated each missionary’s account (though the exact meaning or extent of “investigation” is unclear), and decided not to discipline Bishop.

Saturday, March 24: Victim 1 issues a statement via MormonLeaks to say that even though the original audio was released without her permission, she harbors no ill feelings toward MormonLeaks for moving forward without her consent. She states that she will be filing a lawsuit against the LDS Church, at which time her identity will become part of the public record, and that she looks forward to “sharing more of the story in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, her attorney says he believes it is likely there is a third victim.

Sunday, March 25: A day of rest. No new public revelations.

It remains unclear whether these specific charges or the general subject of sexual abuse will be addressed in any capacity at the Church’s worldwide General Conference, which occurs this weekend, March 31 and April 1.

It will be the first Conference under the new leadership of LDS President Russell M. Nelson, who took the reins in January after the death of President Thomas S. Monson.

Rumors have been proliferating on social media that this Conference will feature some kind of interesting change or new revelation that has been received by President Nelson. It would seem, however, that whatever positive change the Church has looked forward to announcing may be overshadowed by this dark story of sexual abuse.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story confused the Thursday revelations about the singles ward bishop and a victim. It should be Victim 1, not Victim 2. The error has been corrected.


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About the author

Jana Riess

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

36 Comments

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  • Thanks for this recap – to be fair I think you might also mention that in 2010 the church also reported the abuse allegations to the police. Also, while this might seem like a huge story to some, I would hardly say it’s rocked the LDS church. Most members outside of Utah haven’t even heard about it.

  • “….that this Conference will feature some kind of interesting change or new revelation that has been received by President Nelson. ”
    How can anyone argue with a REVELATION ?
    That’s why the evangelicals voted for DJT.

  • It appears Bishop has a history of poor behavior. The former Dean of Women at Weber State also spoke out against this guy and his behavior even then was deplorable. I guess the church has made a statement that “allows” another adult in the room for interviews. This seems to be window dressing. It should be MANDATORY! So much for inspired leadership that protects our children.

  • Why does it matter who has heard of it? Because no one heard of Bishop sexually assaulting women, it is ok?

  • what? no.. why would you think that’s what I meant? Just saying it hasn’t exactly “rocked the LDS church”.. maybe it will if more people learn about it. Seemed a bit of an exxageration that’s all.

  • Think maybe the LDS Church has learned to stop doing these “internal investigations” and just go ahead and accompany the woman to make a complaint to the police? Well, truth is, doesn’t appear any organization has done that yet. But that is what needs to happen.

    Get the police involved from the beginning and let the professional, civil authorities do their job. It is not the job the of those inside the LDS church (or any religious organization) to investigate civil wrong-doings within their organization and make decisions of guilt or innocence or what even constitutes a breach of civil laws. It is their jobs as members of the larger society to cooperate with the legal systems set-up to provide security for everyone in that society. If they don’t want to be a member of that society, they need to move on some place else.

  • “He does, however, admit on the tape that he has a sexual addiction he has struggled with his whole adult life.”

    Two points:

    You take something normal and natural and universal, like sex, and turned it into the holiest, and at the same time, the dirtiest thing in the universe, and this is what happens. People obsess about sex: the sex they are having, the sex they are not having, the sex that other people are hawing. Because they have issues controlling themselves— And I think that these are mostly imaginary issues, because the sex drive itself is so powerful —they must control other people.

    Except that none of it works.

    I find it very “convenient” that the good bishop claims he has had a sexual addiction issue is entire life. “See? it’s not my fault I can’t control myself. I have a sexual addiction issue.”

    Weren’t certain people lecturing other people in consenting adult relationships?

    *and it makes me want to do inappropriate things with inappropriate people in an inappropriate and forceful way.

  • In Utah cities & towns you can get on the roof of an LDS meetinghouse and see the spires of other LDS meetinghouses in every direction, especially in greater SLC. So the gossip grapevine is old, sturdy and prolific. Not so much anywhere else in the world. Folks will need to send up a flare or two.

  • And who should the other adult be? A parent? What if the interviewee is being abused by their parent?

  • Thanks for the factual recap. While I don’t think a victim’s general history is relevant in these situations, I do think the fact that Victim 1 has made false accusations of this nature before (according to Bishop’s son, who apparently has police reports stating as much, and Victim 1’s ex-husband) is relevant to the discussion. It makes perfect sense that someone who has in fact been victimized might channel their fear and aggression in another way and make a false report, so I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s proof that Victim 1 is lying in this case, but I do think it informs the actions of those around the situation thus far. Personally, I think the evidence tends to support Victim 1’s claims, but information about false accusations in the past is relevant to paint a complete picture both of what happened and what we know so far. (Other alleged bad behavior unrelated to making false accusations is wholly irrelevant.)

  • Great question! First, these worthiness interviews evolved over a long time period. Worthiness interviews for children should stop. If the bishop meets with a child for any reason, it should be with any other adult and/or a parent. If an adult is having a worthiness interview, again another adult should always be there. It could be a counselor, a woman, a friend. As far as a child telling a bishop about abuse.This may happen but I have never heard of a single case. Our bishops have no training and as we saw with the woman who was abused at the MTC, her bishop did not believe her. I would prefer children report abuse to a mandated reporter such as a teacher.

  • I don’t think having another adult in the room solves more problems than it creates in most situations involving adults, so REQUIRING another adult in the room in those circumstances seems absurd to me. Another person in the room is another person who has to maintain confidentiality, which increases the real or perceived risk of gossip or shame arising from such a meeting.

    I do know of bishops who have uncovered bad family situations (abuse or otherwise) by directly communicating with youth or children.

    I think better training and specific policies requiring disclosure of allegations of abuse (when not received in the course of a confession by the abuser) would help a lot. There’s really no sense throwing out the baby with the bath water.

  • I have a good cure for the possible confidentiality leaks. Stop all worthiness interviews. People can decide themselves if they are in harmony with the Lord. They don’t need someone called the “Bishop”. It is too easy for abuse to occur to take the risk.

  • It’s too easy for abuse to occur between parent and child. No single parenting. It’s too easy for coaches to abuse kids. No sports. It’s too easy for music tutors to abuse kids. No one on one music lessons.

    As somebody who has benefited immensely from personal interviews with bishops, I can tell you that what you propose will make people worse off. You don’t have to go to that extreme to reduce the risk of abuse, which is not any higher among bishops, and is probably much lower than the population generally.

  • While I agree parent sexual abuse is serious, this topic is clergy abuse. In adition, Bishops are from ideal for a child to get help from with this regards. Your position is out of touch with current church policy. Are you aware of that? In addition, no position is too extreme to stop even one case of sexual abuse by a man in authority in the church. I hink Jesus would agree.

  • The ideal person to help a child in an abusive situation is the first person to listen to them and take them seriously.

    “Your position is out of touch with current church policy.” In what way?

    “In addition, no position is too extreme to stop even one case of sexual abuse by a man in authority in the church.” This is an easy claim to make, but a hard one to back up. Where do you stop with that argument? I’ve already illustrated things that would reduce the cases of abuse, but they would either be too burdensome or throw out so much good with the bad. Doctors and therapists often must be in a room alone with a child, youth, or adult of the opposite sex. But it’s necessary for them to do the good that they do. If someone wants to invite someone else into an appointment with any of those people, I think that’s great. But some people, often especially youth, don’t want anyone else in the room when they disclose their most private physical, emotional, or spiritual problems.

    You can take reasonable precautions without denying everyone an opportunity have one-on-one conversations with the bishop.

  • The ideal person to report child abuse is a mandated reporter like a teacher. Sadly, a bishop might run to the parent and tell them what was said instead of notifying authorities. Are you aware the church now allows another adult in the room?

  • In many states religious leaders are mandated reporters.

    Yes, I’m aware the Church allows an adult in the room. Which I support 100% and have advocated for. However, the Church does not REQUIRE another adult in the room. It should be up to the interviewer whether she or he wants another person in the room.

  • Being called to be a Bishop, MTC President,or some other calling is a pedophile and sexual abusers dream calling.They get to have a sexual conversation with a young person all alone, in an environment where the young person was raised in a culture where this type of behavior is practiced and they are to trust this wonderful priesthood leader who could not possibly be a sexual predator.It is ripe for abuse and we have no idea how wide spread it is.
    What we know is in the case of the young women who was abused at the MTC, general authorities knew and did nothing, a bishop did not report it. He said on a television interview he did not believe her. We know the church released her name and did a background check on HER, not the ABUSER. So much for that wonderful bishop helping out as you want to frame the discussion.
    We also know when a group of members marched to church headquarters the leaders did not go out and have a conversation. They told them not to touch the building. Oh yea, they are very concerned about victims.
    I see many signs of the tactics that were employed by the Catholic Church to protect itself going on with the Joe Bishop situation. I thought the prophet was here to protect us but his actions do not show that.

  • Do you have inside information that the rest of us are not privy to? Because you’ve made assertions about the Bishop case that are not publicly known. For example, we (the public) know that Church Headquarters was made aware of the situation in 2010. We know that local leaders were made aware earlier.

    I’m also unaware of the Church ever releasing the accuser’s name. The media know the name of the accuser from public records requests, actually contact with the accuser and from Bishop’s son/attorney. Likewise, we know the Church’s has outside counsel did a background check on the accuser because Bishop’s attorney, who was apparently a part of three-party settlement talks, released portions of it. We (the public) don’t know that the Church’s outside counsel did not also do a background check and investigate Bishop. In fact, knowing something about these kinds of settlements, I would be very surprised if they did not do one. We don’t have that because Bishop’s son/attorney would have no interest in releasing that information.

    There are actually a lot of situations that are much riskier than being a bishop or stake president, specifically being a teacher, where prolonged exposure to children allows for identification of victims. (See number 1 in link:) https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/do-the-right-thing/201003/six-myths-about-clergy-sexual-abuse-in-the-catholic-church%3famp

  • It is now in the public record. Do research and you will find it. You seem determined to defend abusers.

  • I’ve read just about everything there is to read on this subject. If you have sources backing up your claims that I have challenged, you should cite them rather than say “do research.”

  • In this entire conversation, not ONCE have I heard you express any concern for victims of those abused by people in power in the church. Do your own research!

  • Considering that this discussion has been about your specific policy proposal, I should find it unsurprising that my conversation has not deviated from my disagreement with that policy proposal. For the record, however, as I have expressed elsewhere, any church leader who abuses his authority and harms any other person is worthy of damnation and criminal and/or civil penalties commensurate with their wrongdoing. Victims of such abuse need compassion and care.

    “Do your own research!” As I have said before, I have. You have misstated facts, as I have already outlined. When someone makes a factual claim and then attempts to shift the burden of proving that claim, it’s an indication that that person has not done their own research, and probably realizes that they have misstated the facts, but can’t admit it.

  • I am still not sure how strong your compassion is with your careful choice of words. You said,”any church leader who abuses his authority and harms any other person is worthy of damnation,” This sounds very sterile as if you are not even sure any abuse has even happened. You certainly do not sound concerned about the victims of Bishop.
    Concerning research, you seem to be projecting your incompetence on me. It is not my fault your research has come up short. I have been honest in everything I have reported.

  • You have not been honest. You have lied. Imagine if I had said, without citation, that Bill Gates didn’t vaccinate his kids out of autism fears (a rumor I actually recently saw). You would be right to be skeptical of such a claim, and if you called me out on it, it would be ludicrous for me to reply “do your research” (which is a response anti-vaxxers frequently give).

    In this case, you made at least three factual claims that are not backed up in any of the reporting I have seen. I refer you to my previous post for what those are. In the many articles I’ve read, I’ve not seen anything backing up those claims. Since you made the claim, the burden of proof is on you. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof_(philosophy)

  • There you go again making vile accusations against me. You seem to have a lot of hate in your heart. Maybe you should visit your bishop and get some professional help as well. Let me know where you live so I can recommend a good therapist.
    I still have not heard one once of compassion for these two abused victims or any other from you.

  • Why not just cite a source? Is there some flaw in my argument? If there is, why not point it out? Why continue deflecting with snarky comments?

    I’ve already stated how I feel about the case. No one deserves to have a leader take advantage of them. The things that Bishop has admitted to are deplorable. The things he’s been accused of but hasn’t admitted are far worse. The victims were apparently tragically vulnerable, and the Church ought to pay for therapy and whatever other damages are appropriate. But none of that is relevant to the discussion WE are having. Your demands for not only some expression of compassion, but something that fits some nebulous standard known only to you, is a deflection of discussion of the specific policy proposal you made and the factually inaccurate claims you’ve made to back it up.

  • I thought for sure this would have been followed by some source backing up your claims that I have challenged (or an acknowledgment that no such source exists).

  • Mikey, please don’t play this game. When asked for a source, you don’t cite an entire news organization. Is there a specific article that makes your three claims that I have disputed? Because I believe I’ve read every article on this topic from kutv.com, and those three disputed claims never appeared in KUTV’s reporting.

  • As a parent it is our duty to use our brains to protect our children in each and every situations regardless of any church policies. Frankly I don’t allow my children to have sleepovers either, not without me there. Pedophiles are everywhere. As for Bishop. and the MTC , we have no idea what did or did not happen. Even with the recording the man is 80 plus years old and my step father agrees with nearly whatever anyone says to him. As for police reports, rarely are they even accurate. And the press has mis-quoted me every time I have ever given a statement. As far as accusations, it appears that many here think that an accusation is a conviction, like no accuser ever lies. IIt does appear that the ball was dropped by several bishops and that is wrong and sad. I do not see a conspiracy nor any lds church policy condoning any sexual predator behavior. So people while we may have some statements, it is impossible to be a fair judge and jury without all the pertinent evidence and collaborating statements. All I do know is that you and I can easily make incorrect judgments due to what we are feed and what is withheld. And the Dean you refer to has a history of not getting along with more than Bishop, and being disgruntled. YES we need to be watch dogs, we need to protect and stand up. However life’s experience from one that has been accused of things that I never did, and had a criminal threaten to extort money from me and from one that has been misquoted and from one that has been wrongly judged, I refuse to be a part of the rush to scream guilty and smear his name or hers, or the LDS Church. However we do know that there have been clergy that have preyed on the innocent and used their positions in every church, creed, and ethnic group and it is never acceptable, we also know that the LDS church does not condone this sinful action ever. Pedophiles and adulterers, and grifters are found pretty much everywhere. If I were male, I’d never allow myself to ever be alone with anyone other than my wife, just for my own safety because all any male needs is an accusation, it doesn’t need to be true, because just the accusation is going to destroy you, and you will spend your entire remaining days unable to defend yourself against an accusation of rape. Joseph of Egypt ‘s accuser wanted his death, and she demanded it.

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