A woman who claims a former Mormon leader raped her in the 1980s staged a protest from the pulpit of the accused man’s Arizona church on Sunday.
McKenna Denson, a 55-year-old Colorado woman, spoke up during a meeting at a church in Chandler, Arizona, telling congregants that high-ranking officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are “covering a sexual predator that lives in your [congregation].”
“For the atonement to take place, we have to be accountable for what we do,” Denson said as a man attempted to remove her from behind the lectern. “In order to keep the church safe, we need to hold sexual predators accountable.”
It’s unclear whether the accused leader, 85-year-old Joseph L. Bishop, was in the church at the time.
Bishop is the former president of a Mormon missionary training center (MTC) in Provo, Utah. Denson claims Bishop raped her in a room at the MTC in 1984. She says she told local church leaders about the alleged assault numerous times over the years.
In April, Denson filed a civil lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its failure to properly discipline Bishop, which meant the leader continued to oversee hundreds of young missionaries.
A U.S. district judge dismissed part of Denson’s lawsuit against the church in August because the statute of limitations had passed. Denson’s claims against Bishop were also dismissed. However, the judge allowed a fraud claim against the church to stand since Denson says she discovered the alleged cover-up in December 2017.
In a statement about the issue in March, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that it did not impose any formal discipline on Bishop because leaders at the time were unable to verify Denson’s allegations.
A video recording of Denson’s speech was posted on NewNameNoah, a YouTube channel that is critical of the church.
Denson spoke up on Sunday during a monthly “fast and testimony” meeting, at which church members are invited to give short speeches about their spiritual experiences. The woman introduced herself as a visitor and as someone who had “great confidence and love for the savior.”
After realizing what Denson had come to speak about, two men from the congregation approached the pulpit to try to get her to stop. When one man tried to move her by force, Denson accused him of invading her personal space.
Denson’s speech was recorded from several camera angles within the church. On Monday, the edited video was posted on NewNameNoah.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins criticized Denson’s tactics in a statement to The Associated Press.
“It is disappointing that anyone would interrupt such a worship service to bring attention to their own personal cause,” the statement said. “Recording and posting of these disruptions on social media to seek public attention and media coverage, sadly, shows an unfortunate lack of respect for others.”
In December, Denson confronted Bishop directly, posing as a reporter and secretly taping their nearly three-hour conversation. In the recording, Bishop calls himself an “addict,” “predator” and “hypocrite,” but he insists he doesn’t remember raping Denson.
The church revised its guidelines for responding to sexual abuse in March, encouraging leaders to “fulfill all legal obligations to report abuse to civil authorities” and to take all abuse allegations seriously.