The Mormon church’s emphasis on precise order when choosing a deceased church president and prophet’s successor leaves Thomas Monson as the most likely choice for its next leader.
Monson, 80, has been the man in waiting longer than any of his contemporaries, outliving many of them throughout his 44 years as a member of the church’s esteemed Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
For the Salt Lake City resident to be named head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometime in the coming week would not come as a surprise.
Gordon B. Hinckley, the church’s 15th president, died Sunday night at the age of 97.
Hinckley’s death leaves Monson as the almost certain heir apparent, given the traditional procedures of the Mormon church going back to a process followed when Brigham Young succeeded church founder Joseph Smith in 1847.
Historically, each presidential successor has been the living man who had spent the greatest number of years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest leadership body of the church, upon his predecessor’s death.
Only the president and his two chief counselors, known collectively as the “first presidency,” supersede the Twelve Apostles quorum within the church.
Monson was inducted into the quorum, known to Mormons as being “sustained,” at age 36 on Oct. 4, 1963. He was ordained a church apostle six days later.
As a result, Monson easily outdistances any of his peers in terms of longevity on the quorum. The second-longest stint has been by Boyd Packer, who was sustained to the quorum in 1970.
Dozens of men have reached the Quorum of the Twelve and never made it to the first presidency or its top position of president because they died before it was their turn to fill a vacancy.
Apostles chosen at young ages have a clear advantage: Hinckley was 51 when named an apostle in 1961, former church President Howard Hunter (1994-95) was 52, Ezra Taft Benson (1985-94) was 44, and Spencer Kimball (1973-85) was 48.
One of the best-known presidents and prophets, Ezra Taft Benson, also served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight Eisenhower. Benson became an apostle in 1943, then waited 30 years to become president of the church.
Church procedures don’t specifically say that the new president-prophet has to come from the quorum, but it is that body that convenes to select the successor.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spells out its procedures for choosing the successor to a deceased church president on its Web site, www.lds.org:
“1. The First Presidency is automatically dissolved.
2. The two counselors in the First Presidency revert to their places of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Seniority is determined by the date on which a person was ordained to the Twelve, not by age.
3. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, now numbering 14 and headed by the senior apostle, assumes church leadership.
4. The senior apostle presides at a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve to consider two alternative propositions:
i. Should the First Presidency be reorganized at this time?
ii. Should the Church continue to function with the Quorum of the Twelve presiding?
5. After discussion, a formal motion is made and accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
6. If a motion to reorganize the First Presidency is passed, the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously selects the new president of the church. The new president chooses two counselors from among the Quorum of the Twelve and the three of them become the new First Presidency. Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized.
7. Following the reorganization of the First Presidency, the apostle who has served the second longest is sustained as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. The only exception is when the second-longest-serving apostle has also been called into the First Presidency as a counselor, in which case the third-longest-serving apostle becomes acting president of the Twelve.
8. The president of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with the rest of the apostles, sets apart the new president of the Church through a formal laying on of hands.”