SALT LAKE CITY -- Attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a former president of its Missionary Training Center asked a federal judge to dismiss a woman's lawsuit alleging rape, claiming it is decades too late.
The arguments in federal court on Wednesday are a critical phase in McKenna Denson's lawsuit against the LDS Church and Joseph Bishop. They centered on whether the statute of limitations for sexual abuse reporting had expired.
Attorneys for the Church argued the statute began tolling in 1984, when Denson claims Bishop sexually assaulted her as a young missionary at the MTC. She also could have brought a claim in 1988, when she says she reported it to LDS leaders, whom she says took no action.
But U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball appeared skeptical in his questions to the LDS Church's lawyer, David Jordan.
"How would she know anything happened in 1988 to Mr. Bishop?" he asked.
Jordon said the fact that Denson alleges she was stonewalled indicates she had knowledge of a coverup.
"The statute begins to run when you realize no one reported back to you," he said.
Jordan also took issue with a claim that Denson's lawyers have made demanding the LDS Church change its policies on investigating abuse allegations. He suggested an order of that nature would run afoul of the First Amendment and religious freedom rights.
Bishop's attorney, Andrew Dice, argued that it was also too late. His client is now 85, other witnesses are dead and many critical documents are long gone. He also said many of Denson's claims are directed at the LDS Church and not Bishop.
Denson's attorney, Craig Vernon, argued to keep the lawsuit alive. Of course she knew she was sexually assaulted, he said.
"What she didn't know was he was a lifelong predator," Vernon told the judge. "That was disclosed in 2017."
In December 2017, Denson confronted Bishop about her accusations in a conversation she recorded. That recording wound up on the MormonLeaks website, triggering intense criticism against the LDS Church over how it handles abuse accusations.
"The Church actively concealed this fraud by telling her they were going to do something, and stonewalling over and over again," Vernon said in court, arguing the Church knew they had a sexual predator on their hands but still promoted him.
Outside of court, Denson insisted to reporters she did not have prior notice.
"Did I know that he raped me? Yes. Did I know the Church covered it up? No. Did I know Joseph Bishop had already reported his sexual predation and sexual addictions to a General Authority before that? No. I had no idea," she said.
Judge Kimball made no ruling, but promised a written decision at a later date.
"We have confidence that the court will ultimately reach a just resolution in this case," Jordan told FOX 13 in a statement released through the LDS Church.
Denson left court feeling optimistic, but her attorney said if they lost they would appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
"We’re cautiously optimistic," Denson said.