SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Mormon missionary leader under investigation by church officials over sexual assault allegations acknowledged asking the alleged victim to expose herself to him during a 1984 encounter, a police report released Wednesday reveals.
It is the first public disclosure of Joseph L. Bishop, 85, acknowledging specific wrongdoing. It contradicts his son’s account that the woman exposed her breasts without being asked during the meeting.
Bishop has repeatedly denied raping the woman, but is heard apologizing to her during a December conversation she secretly recorded with him. The recording was made public this week by the website MormonLeaks, a church watchdog.
The Brigham Young University police report offers a brief summary of the Dec. 5 interview with Bishop about the incident that took place more than three decades ago while he was in a position of authority over the woman.
She was a young woman in her early 20s preparing to go on a proselytizing mission while he held the top leadership post at the Missionary Training Center, a mini campus in Provo where young Mormon men and women have gone for decades to learn foreign language and get ready for multi-year missions that are rites of passages in the Utah-based faith.
“Joseph told us that he did go to this small MTC preparation room in the cafeteria area with (the woman),” it says. “Then while talking to her he asked her to show him her breasts which she did.”
When police asked him to explain why his account about the rape was different than the alleged victim’s, Bishop said “he either can’t remember it or that (the woman) was exaggerating her account.”
BYU police noted in a report sent to prosecutors that his “account was fairly similar to (hers) except for the rape.” The Utah County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute because the statute of limitations has passed.
“I have no reason to doubt the victim’s disclosure, and would have likely prosecuted Mr. Bishop, but for the expiration of the statute of limitations,” deputy county attorney David Sturgill said in the BYU police report.
BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which said on Tuesday in a statement it is investigating allegations it calls “deeply disturbing.” Church officials didn’t immediately respond Thursday for comment about the police report.
The now-55-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld because she’s an alleged victim of sexual assault, lodged her complaint to BYU police in November. She alleges that Bishop raped her in an office in Provo in 1984 when she was a missionary.
Bishop was president from 1983-1986 of the Missionary Training Center in Provo
The woman told BYU police in the Dec. 4 interview that Joseph would take her out of class to have one-on-one conversations, several of which were of a sexual nature. She said the alleged rape occurred one day when he asked her if she wanted to see a room that had a small bed, TV, video tapes and a chair. She eventually pushed him off and left that room, she said.
The woman said she avoided Joseph the remainder of her time at the missionary training center. Years later, in 1998, she said she began reporting the abuse to church officials, she told BYU police.
The church says it first became aware of the allegations against Bishop in 2010 and gave the information to police in Pleasant Grove, where the woman was living. The church said it never heard back from police and opted against disciplining Bishop because he denied it and they were unable to verify the allegations.
The police department didn’t investigate the alleged sexual assault, but it did look into a threat the woman made against Bishop, Lt. Britt Smith said. No arrests were made.
The allegations resurfaced in 2016 when the woman told a regional Mormon leader in Pueblo, Colorado, the church said. Mormon officials reopened the investigation in January when the woman’s attorney sent them the taped conversations from a month earlier. The church statement said officials had outside attorneys interview Bishop and the woman.
“Not surprisingly, the stories, timelines and recollections of those involved are dramatically different,” the church said.
Bishop’s son, Greg Bishop, an attorney in Park City, said Thursday he won’t comment about the police report until he can get a recording of the full interview police did with his father.
He said on Wednesday that there was no sexual assault and that the woman exposed herself to his father, unsolicited, during the encounter. He said his father was apologizing in the recorded conversation for anything he did to make her feel like she could do that.
“It’s always troubled him that a woman would feel that it would be appropriate or well received or acceptable for her to bear her breasts to him,” Greg Bishop said Wednesday. “So, he’s carried some guilt about that because he didn’t think it was appropriate.”
Bishop was also president of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, from 1972-1978. There are no records of allegations of sexual misconduct, said spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess.