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Judge dismisses sex assault lawsuit against ex-MTC president; only 1 claim remains against LDS Church

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge Monday dismissed all but one of a Colorado woman's legal claims in a lawsuit against the LDS Church and a former president of the church's Missionary Training Center who she says raped her while she was a missionary 34 years ago.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball found that McKenna Denson's claims against Joseph Bishop for sexual assault, fraud and emotional distress expired under Utah's statute of limitations.

The judge also tossed Denson's claims against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for sexual assault and emotional distress on the same grounds, as well as her request for an injunction requiring the church to change its policies on reporting suspected sexual assault or abuse.

Kimball, however, ruled that the statute of limitations on Denson's contention that the church hid Bishop's predatory sexual behavior did not begin until she confronted him in December 2017 and learned of the alleged concealment.

Denson reported the alleged abuse to her local bishop, stake president and Elder Carlos E. Asay, according to the lawsuit. Elder Asay served as a general authority of the church from 1976 until his death in 1999.

"Carlos Asay allegedly told Denson that he would inform her of the outcome of the investigation, but never did," the judge wrote. "Despite her efforts, she was not able to uncover that the (church) allegedly had knowledge that Bishop was a sexual predator prior to calling him as the MTC president."

Denson's attorney Craig Vernon said he respects the judge's decision and looks forward to the next phase in the case.

“While we are disappointed that the claims against Mr. Bishop were dismissed because of the statute of limitations, we are pleased that the fraud claims against the church continue," he said.

LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins noted that the judge dismissed three of the four claims against the church.

"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," he said.

Denson alleges Bishop, of Chandler, Arizona, raped her while she was a missionary at the Provo-based MTC in 1984. Bishop has denied the accusation.

Denson, 55, sued Bishop and the LDS Church for sexual assault and battery, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure and fraudulent concealment.

The lawsuit claims Denson made 10 reports about the sexual assault to various LDS leaders over the years without learning if any investigation had taken place.

Denson posed as a reporter to confront Bishop last December when she said the former MTC president told her about his sexual history and addiction. Her interview became public when a website released their taped conversation and its 76-page transcript.

The church and Bishop asked Kimball to dismiss Denson's lawsuit because the statute of limitations on her sexual assault claim expired in 1985, one year after the alleged rape, and her emotional distress and fraud claims expired in early 1988.

LDS Church attorney David Jordan argued that Denson knew after the alleged rape that Bishop wasn't "safe, honorable and trustworthy" as she said in her lawsuit she believed by virtue of his position as MTC president.

Bishop's attorney, Andrew Deiss, said at a hearing last month that Denson knew Bishop wasn't a "godly man" after he told her in the MTC about past sexual encounters.

Deiss told the judge that the statute of limitations can feel harsh but the rights of the accused must be taken seriously. Bishop, he said, is 85 years old, a key witness is dead, documents are gone and memories fade or change over time.

Vernon argued that Denson and Bishop are alive as is Elder Robert E. Wells, a now 90-year-old emeritus general authority of the church to whom Vernon said Bishop confessed his sexual sins in 1977.

Bishop served as MTC president from 1983 to 1986 and as president of Weber State College in the 1970s.

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.


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