SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church is investigating a former missionary training center president who is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the 1980s, following the release this week of a secret audio recording where he is heard apologizing to her and citing a sex addiction.
The allegations are “deeply disturbing” and would lead to formal discipline if true, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement posted to its website Tuesday.
The 85-year-old Joseph L. Bishop denied the allegations when asked by church officials but is apologetic in the recording even though he doesn’t discuss exactly what happened. The recording — from a meeting the woman set up under the guise of being a reporter — was made public this week by the website MormonLeaks, which is a church watchdog.
The 55-year-old woman, whose name is being withheld because she’s an alleged victim of sexual assault, said Bishop tried to rape her in an office in Provo in 1984 when she was a missionary. Bishop was president to the Missionary Training Center in Provo from 1983-1986.
“You want an apology. I want to give you an apology. I don’t know what I can do about it, because here we are, after all these years, but it just... it just hurts my heart to see you suffering,” he said in the taped conversation.
Bishop was also president of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, from 1972-1978.
The woman lodged a complaint last November with Brigham Young University police, who investigated and forwarded their findings to the Utah County Attorney’s office, Lt. Steven Messick said. Prosecutors at that office declined to pursue charges due to the statute of limitations, he said.
The woman’s attorney sent the recording to church officials in January. The church statement said officials had outside attorneys interview Bishop and the woman.
“Not surprisingly, the stories, timelines and recollections of those involved are dramatically different,” the church said.
The church says it first became aware of the allegations against Bishop in 2010 and passed on 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 it did look into 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. It was reported to local police, but it’s unclear what if anything was done.
The Mormon church reopened its investigation in January when her attorney sent the taped conversations.
While acknowledging that it doesn’t have the same tools available to police, the church said it will continue to investigate as part of its push to hold members accountable.
The Associated Press could not reach the woman for comment. She told the Deseret News that she first reported the sexual assault to church officials around 1988. Church officials say they have no record of that.
Greg Bishop, the adult son of Joseph Bishop, said his father vehemently denies the allegations and is a victim of a woman who has falsely accused men of sexual assault. He said his father was confused during the taped December conversation that took place in Arizona shortly after Bishop had a second heart attack. He was on medications and taken aback by the woman’s aggressiveness, Greg Bishop said.
The woman set up the interview under the guise of being reporter working on a story about men who served as mission presidents, he said.
Greg Bishop said there was no sexual assault and that the woman exposed her breasts to his father, unsolicited, during the encounter in the office in 1984. He said his father was apologizing in the recorded conversation for anything he did to make her feel like she could do that.
Greg Bishop said his father’s claim of a sexual addiction doesn’t refer to a clinical addiction, but rather his father’s lifelong battle with “controlling” his “sexual thoughts.”
“Those people who know dad don’t put much credence in these allegations,” Greg Bishop said.
At one point in the 2-hour taped conservation, the woman confronts Joseph Bishop point blank about molesting another woman. He confirms he did give the woman a back rub that got “too frisky” while the woman lived with him.
Greg Bishop said his father gave the woman, who was living with the family during a difficult period of her life, a back rub at her request but quickly realized it wasn’t a good idea.
It’s unclear if that woman ever filed any complaint with police.