SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former Mormon missionary leader under investigation by church officials over sexual assault allegations said he asked the alleged victim to expose herself to him during a 1984 encounter but that he didn’t rape her, a police report reveals.
It is the first public disclosure of Joseph L. Bishop, 85, acknowledging wrongdoing and contradicts his son’s account that the woman exposed her breasts without being asked.
But Craig Vernon, an attorney for the alleged victim, said his client never exposed herself and that Bishop ripped off her blouse and raped her.
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.
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A Brigham Young University police report released Wednesday offers a brief summary of the Dec. 5 interview with Bishop about the incident. She was a young woman in her early 20s preparing to go on a proselytizing mission while he was president at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
“Joseph told us that he did go to this small MTC preparation room in the cafeteria area with (the woman),” the police report 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 differed from the woman’s, Bishop said “he either can’t remember it or that (the woman) was exaggerating her account.”
BYU police told 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.
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 comment about the police report Thursday.
The now-55-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld because she’s an alleged victim of sexual assault, filed a complaint with BYU police in November.
Bishop was president from 1983-1986 of the Missionary Training Center in Provo.
Vernon, the woman’s attorney, said they were in settlement talks with church officials before the recording was leaked this week. He said they would consider re-opening those discussions with church officials. If not, Vernon said the woman is prepared to file a civil lawsuit against the church and Bishop.
The woman told BYU police 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 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, she said.
The woman said she avoided Joseph the remainder of her time at the missionary training center. In 1998, she said she began reporting the abuse to church officials.
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 investigated 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.
“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. 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.