The Mormon Church has asked a judge to dismiss rape claims brought against a former leader. Not because he didn’t do it, per se, but because they say the victim waited too long to report.
McKenna Denson, who is now 55 years old, says she was inspired by the #MeToo Movement to be vocal about what she experienced in 1984 during her time at the Missionary Training Center (MTC). As we posted earlier, she filed the lawsuit against Joseph L. Bishop (below), who was serving as the president of the MTC at the time, only after learning her previous reports to the Church went unanswered.
Denson said in her lawsuit that, while the statute of limitations may be officially over for the rape itself, the limitations for fraud have not run out because she just found out in December that the Church never took any action against Bishop. She reportedly made 10 official complaints against him.
“The purpose of statutes of limitations is clear — they are legislative expressions of public policy that encourage potential plaintiffs to bring their actions promptly, before the causes get stale from lost evidence or faulty memories,” Bishop’s lawyer Andrew Deiss wrote.
“Here, Ms. Denson waited decades to bring the causes of action in the complaint, and they are time barred as a result.”
The suit asks for a jury trial seeking damages for loss of earnings and to pay for medical and legal expenses. It also asks that a jury direct the church to change its policies.
Denson claims Bishop is a lifelong sexual predator and that he confessed as much to his ecclesiastical leader in the late 1970s.
It’s understandable that, if Denson truly thought the Church of Latter-Day Saints was handling these reports appropriately, she may not have felt the need to file a lawsuit earlier on. But she claims they told her they would do the right thing, only to sweep it all under the rug.
Instead of fighting the claims on their merits, however, the Mormon Church responded in court with a filing entirely focused on the timing of the lawsuit. As if they would have acted differently if she brought it to their attention earlier (which she apparently did).
LDS Church attorney David Jordan said the assault claim expired in 1985, while the emotional distress claims expired three years later.
“Thus, any claim Ms. Denson may have had expired over 30 years ago and should be dismissed,” he wrote.
Jordan wrote that Denson appears to contend in her lawsuit that although she discovered that Bishop was not a “safe, honorable, and trustworthy” person in 1984, she did not “discover” until December 2017 that the church knew he was a “sexual predator” at the time he was placed in a leadership position at the MTC.
“In short, even assuming Ms. Denson’s allegations are true, she knew by at least early 1984 that, contrary to any alleged representation by (the church), Mr. Bishop was not ‘safe, honorable, and trustworthy,’” he wrote. “Accordingly, the three-year statute of limitations for her fraud claim began to run at that time. Thus, Ms. Denson’s fraud claims expired in early 1987 — over 30 years ago.”
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. It can be difficult for victims of sexual abuse to come forward right away, especially when the attacker is a religious authority figure. But Denson did come forward at the time, and her only mistake was trusting the Church to take care of it.
We’ll see how this case shakes out, but even if the courts can’t do anything, Denson deserves a lot of credit for bringing this story to the public’s attention. She’s exposing the Mormon Church’s desire to cover up for priests at the expense of their alleged victims.
(Screenshot via YouTube)