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Lawsuit alleging rape at the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center is on hold

Posted at 10:29 AM, Aug 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-19 19:15:33-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A lawsuit alleging a rape at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Missionary Training Center is now on hold.

At a brief hearing on Monday, McKenna Denson asked for more time to find new attorneys.

"Some are intimidated by the fact that it’s the Mormon church and other firms want to take the case," she said.

The judge gave her six weeks and put the case on hold. Lawyers for the Church did not object.

"I don’t want to go to court without an attorney," she told U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead, adding: "I think that would be foolish on my part."

FOX 13 first reported in June the lawsuit was in limbo after her attorneys abruptly quit the case. They have declined to say why.

Denson filed a lawsuit last year against the Latter-day Saint church, alleging she was raped by former MTC President Joseph Bishop in a basement room in 1984. A federal judge dismissed Denson’s lawsuit against Bishop and most of her claims against the Church. However, the judge allowed a claim to continue alleging that the Church knew of problems in Bishop’s past but still put him in charge of the MTC.

A recording of her confronting Bishop, who is now in his 80s, and him acknowledging some improper behavior, wound up on the MormonLeaks website where it sparked criticism against the LDS Church over how it handles abuse cases. Bishop has denied a sexual assault, but in a recorded police interview obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, he admitted to asking her to expose her breasts to him.

Denson said in a May interview with FOX 13 that she has faced intimidation that she believed was tied to her lawsuit.

Judge Pead indicated he was willing to stay the entire case, but scheduled another hearing at the end of September to give any new legal counsel time.

"I’m not wedded to the schedule and will absolutely give you more time, but the case needs to move forward," the judge said.

Peter Stirba, an attorney who is not connected to this case, said acting as one's own attorney is very difficult in civil lawsuits with so many rules and requirements. He said giving extra time is a good thing for everyone involved.

"We want people to have their day in court. And I’m sure that was part of the decision today to give additional time. So this person can find a lawyer, continue with the case, then the system benefits for everybody involved," he said.