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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" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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