Amid quiet life in Chandler, explosive sexual-assault allegations hit Mormon leader

The Republic, Arizona/March 24, 2018

By Dennis Wagner

Joseph Layton Bishop lives in a suburban golf resort — a quiet, gated community in south Chandler.

When a stranger knocks, the 85-year-old answers from a back room with an energetic, "Come in." He greets a visitor with a smile, a firm handshake and clear eyes.

For Bishop, a former president of the Mormon Church's Provo, Utah, Missionary Training Center, the serenity of his retirement imploded this week with the release of a recorded interview.

A woman posing as a journalist had claimed to be doing an article on unheralded leaders within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and invited Bishop to meet in a Valley hotel conference room.

In the recorded interview, after gushing about Bishop's service to the church, the woman beginstalking about events more than three decades ago, when she was training at the center in Utah for her work as a missionary. She recalls going to Bishop for counseling because she had been sexually abused by a stepfather.

Over time, she says, Bishop groomed her with flattery and attention, then took her to a basement room and attempted to rape her.

The sensational tape sparked national news coverage and drew a response from the Mormon Church. But questions remain about exactly what Bishop admitted to doing, and whether his admissions were credible. Bishop's family, in response, has released information about a string of other unproven assault allegations the woman has made in the past, creating a case that accents the many challenges of claims and credibility in the era of the #MeToo movement.

The 55-year-old woman's name is redacted from the recording and transcript. The Arizona Republic spoke with her, but generally does not identify possible victims of sexual assault.

During 2 1/2 hours of wrenching exchanges, a recording of which was posted this week on the website MormonLeaks, the woman berates Bishop as a predator. 

She offers him forgiveness.

She threatens exposure, and requests compensation.

She admits threatening to kill Bishop in 2010 — a move she says was a fabrication in an effort to force a response from church officials.

She demands accountability.

She also reviles Mormon Church officials, saying they had done nothing despite repeated complaints over many years.

Bishop, in turn, recalls meeting with the woman at the training center around 1984, and discussing her sexual trauma.

As the woman accuses him, he denies any memory of an assault, but he does not challenge her account. Instead, he apologizes repeatedly, profusely, while explaining that he had recovered from a sexual addiction. 

He doesn't detail what that sexual addiction entailed — a point his family now stresses as they deny the allegations of assault.

That exchange was the first of many humbling moments for the former high-profile Mormon Church leader.

Exposing the claims

Bishop once served as president of LDS-founded Weber State University. He headed a Mormon Church mission in Argentina. He spent years as a professor at Brigham Young University, and wrote three books, one of them titled, "The Making of a Missionary."

In the interview and transcript, Bishop recites that legacy to the accuser, and says he hopes she will not expose him. That would devastate his family; it would embarrass the church. But he says he would understand if she went public, or took the recording to law enforcement.

The interviewer tells Bishop he has destroyed her life, and that her frustration festered to a point where she made threats to church officials, saying she had a gun and was trained to use it.

Woman: "You know what they told me? 'You're not entitled to an answer.' … I said, 'Really? Well, you know what? ... I know where that bastard lives, and I will shoot that bastard myself.' "

After Bishop apologizes, the woman speaks of being conflicted — weighing compassion against an obligation to accountability, and to other victims.

Woman: "This is a felony. Not just the ones that you have perpetrated ... And those women have no voice. So I struggle with, 'Do I want to be that voice? And is this enough?' ... I don't know."

The interview was recorded in December. Over ensuing weeks, those conflicts would unravel until the recording was posted online.

Woman: "I don't know how many (victims) there are. But, if this story went public, you would be the Harvey Weinstein, or whatever the hell his name is, of the Mormon church. True?"

Bishop: "I would be."

This week, LDS leaders issued an official statement acknowledging that the interviewer filed a complaint as far back as 2010. 

No action was taken at the time, they said, because Bishop denied all charges and there was no evidence to corroborate the allegations.

The statement concluded that "serious and deeply disturbing" statements on the tape remain under investigation and, if proven, reflect "a tragic betrayal of our standards."

Bishop's family sees the allegations another way.

Under the influence

Greg Bishop, an attorney and son of the accused, contended the interview was conducted just days after his dad suffered a nearly fatal heart attack and surgery, and while he was under the influence of medications.

In a phone interview with The Arizona Republic, he said his father did not sexually abuse anyone, and seeming confessions have been misconstrued. Greg Bishop said his father is so conscientious that he viewed prurient thoughts as sinful, and as a sexual addiction.

"He is holding himself to a high standard," said the son, "and he wants to prepare to meet his God."

In one recorded sequence, the accuser asks about a young, female missionary who had moved into the Bishop family's home in Provo because she was struggling with trauma from prior sexual abuse.

Woman: "Did you molest her?"

Bishop: "Yes."

Greg Bishop noted that his father elaborates later in the interview, saying the woman had asked for a back rub. While complying with that request, the elder Bishop explains, things got "frisky" — the word is not clarified  — "and that's all that ever happened."

"My dad is easily confused," Greg Bishop said. "I think he doesn't really understand what the term 'sexual addiction' means."

The church statement confirmed that the woman had also made an accusation against Bishop in 2010, and was offered emotional support and counseling.

"Mr. Bishop’s local ecclesiastical leaders were contacted and they confronted him with her claims, which he denied, and local leaders did not feel they could pursue church discipline for Mr. Bishop," the church said.

No charges, no settlement

Days after Joseph Bishop was interviewed by the 55-year-old woman, her attorney delivered a copy of the recording, sought a financial settlement, and spoke of public disclosure.

There was no settlement.

Meanwhile, a criminal complaint had been filed with BYU police, who interviewed Joseph Bishop at his Chandler home and presented findings to local prosecutors. No charges were lodged.

According to the police report, Bishop did recall having a meeting with a female missionary years ago. The police report said: "While talking to her he asked her to show him her breasts which she did.”

The police report ends with a message from a deputy county attorney in Utah advising detectives that he had "no reason to doubt the victim's disclosures, and would have likely prosecuted Mr. Bishop but for the expiration of the statute of limitations," which is four years in Utah.

Greg Bishop said his father did not remember making that statement to police.

He also said the accuser's background is relevant because it includes multiple rape claims, false police reports and other manipulations.

As recently as February, the woman was arrested in New Mexico on suspicion of identity theft. According to a police report, she used an ex-boyfriend's name and Social Security number to obtain utility services and to lease an apartment. Detectives obtained a phone recording wherein the woman posed as the ex-boyfriend, using his name, according to the police report. That case is pending.

Another police report, from South Carolina, describes a 1999 case in which the woman claimed she was pistol-whipped and locked in the trunk of a car by two men outside a restaurant where she had worked. Detectives learned she had been fired shortly before the incident and had made inquiries about the restaurant's security liability. They concluded she was dishonest and her report "unfounded."

In separate interviews with The Republic, the woman's former husband and another family member also questioned her motives and credibility.

On at least two additional occasions, they said, the woman reported being raped — once while on her Mormon mission in Washington, D.C.

The ex-husband, who is not named in this report so as not to reveal the woman's identity, said, "This is an insult, especially, to women who have gone through something like that and really have been hurt."

Greg Bishop said he supports the #MeToo movement but is trying to defend his father against a false charge.

Accuser sees 'smear campaign' 

In a brief phone conversation, the accuser said LDS Church lawyers had prepared an extensive dossier on her background. She refused to address specific allegations but said, "Some of it's true. A lot of it isn't."

The woman referred further questions to her attorney, Craig Vernon, who said trauma from sexual abuse led, in part, to his client's troubles. He would not address particular events except to acknowledge that she had fabricated the alleged rape in Washington, D.C.

"Like many survivors of sexual assault, she has struggled her entire life," Vernon said. "She has cried out for help. She has done things she regrets ... This has been a big smear campaign against my client."

Vernon said he is preparing a lawsuit and urged other women to come forward if they were victimized. 

Interview provided to website

Amid investigations and settlement talks, the interview tape remained hidden until this week, when someone provided a copy to MormonLeaks, an online organization that pushes for transparency in the LDS Church.  

Ryan McKnight, website founder, declined to identify the source, but said he has had no contact with Joseph Bishop's accuser. 

McKnight, an ex-Mormon, said he posted the recording for public consumption because statements from an important ecclesiastic leader indicated "grossly inappropriate" conduct.

Friday afternoon, the site apparently was so inundated with users that it could not be accessed for a time. McKnight said a security feature makes it impossible to determine how many people have viewed the page.

At Joseph Bishop's house in Chandler, the visitor identified himself as another journalist hoping to conduct an interview — this time about what he had said in the recorded conversation.

The old man's smile vanished.

"Not going to happen," he said, ushering the reporter outside, where women chatted on a nearby tennis court and golfers practiced putting on a green.

"I'm living a nightmare," he said. "This is the dark side of #MeToo, where somebody wants to manipulate the system, has a history of doing it, and has been successful."

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