McKenna Denson had traveled more than 700 miles from her home in Pueblo, Colo., to attend a Mormon Church service in Chandler, Ariz., and didn’t waste time telling the congregation why.
Sunday was supposed to be a day of fasting and testimony at the church, and Denson strode up to the pulpit like any other member of the congregation. She introduced herself as a visitor, professed “great confidence and love for the savior” — and then she accused a former church leader of raping her more than 30 years ago.
Denson had apparently come to expose him before his own congregation.
“The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are covering a sexual predator that lives in your ward,” she told the congregation Sunday, according to video footage of the incident. “His name is Joseph Bishop. He was the [Missionary Training Center] president in 1984 when he raped me in the basement of the MTC.”
Denson, 55, had previously sued Bishop and the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April, claiming the church failed to protect her from a known “sexual predator.” Bishop has denied raping her. On Sunday, flabbergasted church officials attempted to physically remove Denson, telling her, “I need to have you sit down,” and, “I’d love to talk to you afterward” as she continued her testimony.
It was not entirely clear from the video footage whether Bishop was at the church Sunday, but Denson claimed he was. She said on social media on Monday that she “looked him in the eye” as she spoke from the pulpit.
Denson first went public with her allegations in April, weeks after a leaked audiotape revealed Bishop confessing to being a “sexual predator” in a conversation with Denson. The taped conversation set off a cascade of criticism against the Mormon Church over concerns that a self-described predator was allowed access to young vulnerable women in need of counseling, which Bishop provided in his leadership role.
Though Bishop has denied raping Denson, he admitted in an interview with police last November to asking her to expose her breasts, according to a police report obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune. Denson filed the police report just after she confronted Bishop in Arizona under the guise of a writer seeking to interview him, before ultimately asking for his apology, according to the taped recording leaked by MormonLeaks, a nonprofit seeking to increase transparency within the church.
Denson accused him of tearing her blouse and pulling her skirt up and “trying to rape me” in the small basement room, according to the recording. Bishop said he did not remember doing that. But he still apologized for his conduct, describing himself as “hypocrite” who struggled with a “sexual addiction” throughout his life, he said in the recording.
Her lawsuit was dismissed against Bishop in August because the statute of limitations on the sexual assault claims had expired. A criminal investigation was closed for the same reason, said Deputy Utah County Attorney David Sturgill, the Salt Lake Tribune reported in March. At the time of the alleged rape in 1984, the legal deadline for filing such a charge was four years, he said. But the lawsuit continues against the church on allegations that it “fraudulently” represented Bishop as a safe and trustworthy priest despite knowledge of misconduct.
The video footage of Denson’s public accusations against Bishop emerged Monday on YouTube, published by a group called NewNameNoah, whose intent is to take hidden cameras into Mormon services to “expose the TRUTH about what goes on inside,” according to its YouTube biography.
In the video, the first man who tried to get Denson to stop talking about accusations came up behind her, asking her to sit down. “Can I talk to you afterward?” he asked.
Denson told him she would “absolutely love to” talk to him afterward — and then returned to her testimony.
“For the atonement to take place,” she continued, “we have to be accountable for what we do. We don’t get to —”
The man interrupted again, wrapping his arm around her and saying “I’d like to talk to you, okay?”
“Thank you, but you know what, you’re in my personal space,” Denson said. A second man approached her. “No,” she told him. “I have more to say.”
“However,” she continued, resisting as the first man attempted to tug her away from the microphone, “it is really important for you to understand, in order to keep our ward safe,” referring to the congregation, “in order to keep our church safe —”
Both men tried grabbing her wrists. Denson told them to “call the police.” “Don’t touch me,” she said. “You’re assaulting me.”
“In order to keep the church safe, we need to hold sexual predators accountable, whether they are pedophiles or whether they are rapists like Joseph Bishop,” she said.
By then, the men succeeded at ushering her off the stage, while Denson reminded them they were being recorded.
Bishop could not be reached for comment. His attorney did not immediately return requests for comment, but told the New York Times previously that Bishop “did not sexually assault” Denson, “did not have a history of sexual assault or impropriety” and “did not attempt in any way to cover up any alleged sexual misconduct.”
In a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday, Eric Hawkins, national spokesman for the Mormon Church, called Denson’s actions at the Sunday service “disappointing,” saying a worship service was not the appropriate venue to air her complaints.
“It is disappointing that anyone would interrupt such a worship service to bring attention to their own personal cause,” he said in an email. “Recording and posting of these disruptions on social media to seek public attention and media coverage, sadly, shows an unfortunate lack of respect for others. We respectfully request those with personal grievances find other means to communicate their messages than disrupting the sanctity of a worship service.”
The church has previously said it would conduct a full investigation into Denson’s allegations, which it called “deeply disturbing.” In a March statement, the church said it first became aware of the allegations in 2010 after the accuser first told church leaders, who also contacted police. But church leaders could not verify the allegations at that time.
The church also said it was aware of a second woman who accused Bishop of sexual abuse but that Bishop denied those allegations as well. Citing the police report in which Bishop confessed to sexual misconduct, the church said it was “committed to bringing accountability for what has occurred.”
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