Tom Smart, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson (center) President Henry B. Eyring (left) and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (right) in Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 04, 2008.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement Saturday about priesthood in the church, church service, questioning and apostasy.

The three-paragraph statement, posted Saturday morning on, said:

"In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of his children, the blessings of his priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices. All service in the church has equal merit in the eyes of God. We express profound gratitude for the millions of Latter-day Saint women and men who willingly and effectively serve God and his children. Because of their faith and service, they have discovered that the church is a place of spiritual nourishment and growth.

"We understand from time to time church members will have questions about church doctrine, history or practice. Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.

"Simply asking questions has never constituted apostasy. Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine."

The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the two presiding quorums of the LDS Church. They meet as a council once a week in the faith's Salt Lake Temple.

The statement comes at the end of a week in which media attention focused on the decision of an LDS bishop in Virginia to excommunicate Kate Kelly for action he said “has threatened to erode the faith of others.”

Kelly — the founder of an activist organization known as Ordain Women, which advocates the ordination of women to the LDS priesthood — learned she was excommunicated on Monday following a disciplinary council convened by the bishop.

Saturday's statement is consistent with recent teachings from LDS General Authorities regarding the role of questioning, doubt and priesthood authority within the LDS faith.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church's First Presidency, spoke at a recent LDS general conference about the honest search for truth through questioning.

"In this church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth," he said. "It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.”

In the church's most recent general priesthood meeting, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, noted the doctrinal bounds LDS leaders act under with regard to sharing priesthood ordination and authority.

"But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood,” he said.

Elder Oaks said that although they are not ordained to the priesthood, LDS women already act with the authority of the priesthood in their church callings.

"We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings," he said, "but what other authority can it be? … Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”

Elder Oaks made those remarks during a meeting that was the subject of a direct action protest by Kelly and the Ordain Women group.

A national survey of Mormons found that 90 percent of Mormon women oppose the ordination of women. The percentage rises to 95 percent among LDS women with a high religious commitment.

Saturday's statement by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles contributes to public understanding of apostasy in the LDS Church.