(KUTV) — Attorneys for both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Joseph Bishop filed motions on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by McKenna Denson.
Denson filed a lawsuit in April, alleging that Bishop raped her 34 years ago while she was a missionary under his leadership as a Missionary Training Center (MTC) president.
Bishop has denied the allegations to Brigham Young University (BYU) police, who interviewed him in December 2017.
Attorneys for Bishop and the LDS Church argue that the statute of limitations for Denson's accusations has expired.
The lawsuit motion states that Denson's claims are time-barred and should therefore be dismissed.
"Her claims for assault and emotional distress are subject to a one and four year statute of limitations, respectively," court documents state. "They expired in 1985 and 1988, respectively. Her remaining two fraud-based claims are subject to a three year statute of limitations and expired in 1987."
According to defense attorneys, "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."
"Here, Ms. Denson waited decades to bring the causes of action in the Complaint," defense attorneys say, "and they are time barred as a result."
The case is currently being considered by the Utah Supreme Court, and may eventually invalidate arguments made by the LDS Church and Bishop. They are considering whether a new Utah law that eliminates the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases can be applied retroactively.
According to a police report, Bishop admitted to police that he asked Denson to expose her breasts. Denson said this did not happen to her, and it was evidence that there were other victims.
Denson claims that Bishop sought her out individually, and that he called her out of class to visit him in his office. She alleges that he asked her and three other sister missionaries explicit questions about past sexual abuse. These inappropriate conversations would eventually become one-on-one, Denson says. Eventually, the MTC president allegedly invited Denson into a basement room.
Others have confirmed the existence of an "odd" room that matches the description given by Denson. According to a former employee, who asked not to be identified, the room had a bed, TV and VHS player.
"Joseph Bishop tore my blouse open, pulled my garments and panty hose down," Denson said. She said that was when the rape occurred and when he pulled away she was able to kick and get away.
She recalled, "When I was pulling up my pantyhose ... trying to pull myself together, he said to me, 'No one will believe you. Look at you, look at me.'"
According to court documents, Bishop had a history of inappropriate sexual conduct allegations before he was called to become the head of the MTC.
Denson has been telling her story for over three decades.
"After the rape in 1987, since 1987 until recently, McKenna went back to the church over and over again. Nothing happened. McKenna wasn't believed. McKenna was blamed. McKenna was shamed," said Craig Verson, Denson's attorney.
Two different women told LDS Church leaders about alleged inappropriate sexual conduct by Bishop on multiple occasions.
The LDS Church responded to the allegations, saying the allegations "are very serious and deeply disturbing" and that "If the allegations of sexual assault are true, it would be a tragic betrayal of our standards and would result in action by The Church to formally discipline any member who was guilty of such behavior, especially someone in a position of trust."
The LDS then released a follow-up statement.