Woman accusing Mormon leader of rape speaks out against him at church service

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.

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Mormon Church - Joseph Smith - Church of Latter Day Saints - Brigham Young
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 6: This is the World Headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on November 6, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. On November 5 the Mormon Church changed its policy toward gay and lesbian married couples and their children. The new church policy would excommunicate gay or lesbians that choose to get married and disallow their children to be blessed or baptized into the Mormon Church. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), Mormon Prophet And Founder Of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
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UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 2003: Portraits of Joseph Smith (Sharon, 1805 - Carthage, 1844) and his brother Hyrum Smith (Tunbridge, 1800 - Carthage, 1844), American religious leaders and founders of the Mormon religion. Engraving. Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
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Brigham Young, American Mormon leader, 1877. The second President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, Brigham Young (1801-1877) led his followers on an 1100 mile trek from Illinois to Utah in 1846-1847 after the church's founder, Joseph Smith, was murdered by a mob. On arriving at their destination, Young and the Mormons founded Salt Lake City. In keeping with the Mormons' practice of polygamy, Young took more than 20 wives and fathered 47 children. He died of cholera morbus in 1877. (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: This is a picture of the historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple during the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world gather in Salt lake for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Portrait of Joseph Fielding Smith (1838 - 1918), sixth president of the Mormon Church and nephew of founder Joseph Smith, early 20th Century. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
circa 1840: A lithograph of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), Mormon prophet. Original Artist: By F D Richards. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Illustration of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), founder of Mormon Church, preaching to a group of Indians. (Photo by Time Life Pictures/Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: Spires from the historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple rise to the sky during the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world gather in Salt lake for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: A group of children pose for a picture in front of the historic Salt Lake Mormon Temple between sessions of the184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world gather in Salt lake for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1930: Postcard and Portrait of Brigham Young. ca. 1916, BORN JUNE 1, 1801, WHITINGHAM, VT. DIED AUG. 29, 1877. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH. BRIGHAM YOUNG. Brigham Young was born June 1, 1801 in Whitingham, Vt. He succeeded Joseph Smith as President of the Mormon Church when the latter was martyred in Carthage, Ill. in 1844. He led a small band of pioneers into the great unknown West in 1847 and established Salt Lake City where he proved himself to be the greatest colonizer of his time. He died in Salt Lake City, Aug. 29, 1877. (Photo by LCDM Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings during the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world are gathered in Salt Lake City for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings during the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world are gathered in Salt Lake City for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 4: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and congregation sing during the 184th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on October 4, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Faithful Mormons from around the world are gathered in Salt Lake City for the two day conference. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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Mormon Church Salt Lake Temple. Photo from Garden Cafe above. Forty years to build.Not open to public.
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: The dedication prayer for the Mormon Church's first temple in Kirtland, Ohio, is displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: Several rare documents are displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: A page from the1842 Book of Abraham, that the Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith claimed was a translation from Egyptian Papyri and a history of Abraham, is displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: A signature of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith on a letter he wrote when he was imprisoned in 'Liberty Jail,' which later became part of the Doctrine and Covenants, Mormon Scripture, is displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: An 1830, first edition of the Mormon scripture, 'Book of Mormon' and other rare Mormon scriptures are displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 8: An 1835, first edition of 'A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Latter Day Saints' is displayed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church History Library, part of the 'Foundation of Faith' exhibit on September 8, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of the documents are on pubic display together for the first time. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO / BEST BLOOMBERG PHOTOS FOR 2011: The spire of the Mormon Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is seen in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, told the Senate Finance Committee this week he opposes limiting tax deductions for charitable contributions to churches. 'Private educational institutions, hospitals, social welfare agencies and innumerable other organizations' would be impacted according to Oaks. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The spire of the Mormon Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is seen in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the governing body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, told the Senate Finance Committee this week he opposes limiting tax deductions for charitable contributions to churches. 'Private educational institutions, hospitals, social welfare agencies and innumerable other organizations' would be impacted according to Oaks. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Mormon Salt Lake Temple stands during the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A statue of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, stands by the Mormon Salt Lake Temple during the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Director Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as they sing at the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees participate in the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees participate in the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Director Mack Wilberg conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as they sing at the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Temple Square, the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a central sight in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Noel/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
People walk past the Mormon Salt Lake Temple during the first session of the 181st Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011. Mormons from around the world have gathered to listen to church leaders during the two-day conference. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
SALT LAKE CITY - APRIL 4: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sings during the 179th annual general conference of the church April 4, 2009 in Salt Lake City, Utah. More then a 100,000 mormon faithful will attend the conference over the weekend. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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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. 

Bishop has denied raping Denson. However, in an interview with police last year, he admittedhe took Denson to a private room at the MTC and “asked her to show him her breasts, which she did.” 

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.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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