SALT LAKE CITY — Aging LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson has decreased his regular, day-to-day involvement in leadership meetings, a church spokesman said Tuesday of the 89-year-old Mormon prophet.
“Because of limitations incident to his age, President Monson is no longer attending meetings at the church offices on a regular basis,” said Eric Hawkins, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “He communicates and confers with his counselors on matters as needed.
“President Monson is grateful that the work of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles continues without interruption. He appreciates the prayers and support of church members.”
Hawkins added there has been no specific incident or health-related event that prompted the update. President Monson was hospitalized briefly after last month's general conference, and his workload had lessened increasingly over the past year-plus.
Tuesday's statement updates an October 2016 statement on President Monson’s role and involvement in day-to-day operations of LDS Church leaders, which included that “he and others in church leadership are feeling the effects of advancing age” and “he comes to the office every day, attends First Presidency and committee meetings, leads the discussion, and makes decisions.”
The LDS Church's leadership system ensures continuity when the church president is ill, incapacitated or dies. It's based on the "principle of seniority" among the members of the First Presidency and the 12-member Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, each having been called as a prophet, seer and revelator and holding the keys to lead the church.
Several LDS leaders in the past have addressed church leadership, seniority, the roles of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and the circumstances of aging, ailing leaders.
One such was President Monson himself, when in 2013 he reflected on the fifth anniversary of his tenure as LDS Church president and lead prophet-apostle.
“Age eventually takes its toll on all of us. Despite any health challenges that may come to us, despite any weakness in body or mind, we serve to the best of our ability. I assure you that the church is in good hands. The system set up for the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Apostles) assures that it will always be in good hands and that, come what may, there is no need to worry or to fear. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, whom we follow, whom we worship, and whom we serve, is ever at the helm.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who preceded President Monson as LDS Church president, served as a counselor to three church presidents who were ailing and absent at times during their tenure — Presidents Spencer W. Kimball, Howard W. Hunter and Ezra Taft Benson.
In the April 1994 general conference, President Hinckley noted the ailing health of President Benson, who passed away the following month.
“This is not a situation without precedent. Other presidents of the church have also been ill or unable to function fully in the closing months or years of their lives. It is possible that this will happen again in the future," President Hinckley said, adding the Lord had allowed provisions in church governance for any such circumstance.
“It is important that there be no doubts or concerns about the governance of the Church and the exercise of the prophetic gifts, including the right to inspiration and revelation in administering the affairs and programs of the church, when the president may be ill or is not able to function fully.
“When the president is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two counselors together comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency. They carry on with the day-to-day work of the presidency. But any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together.”
The apostle with the most seniority in office always has been chosen to succeed the church president following a president’s death. With the president's death, the First Presidency is dissolved, and the past counselors return to their place in seniority among all apostles until a new First Presidency is created by the succeeding senior apostle identifying and calling his counselors.
"That system of seniority will usually bring older men to the office of president of the church," President Russell M. Nelson, now president of the Quorum of the Twelve, said during the faith's October 2014 general conference. "It provides continuity, seasoned maturity, experience and extensive preparation, as guided by the Lord."
He also said the system provides for "prophetic leadership even when the inevitable illnesses and incapacities may come with advancing age."
President Monson was called as an apostle in 1963. President Nelson, 92, is the next most senior LDS apostle. He was called in 1984.
This system extends into other areas of church leadership as well. During the extended, health-related absences of President Hunter while he was president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the early 1990s, then-Elder Boyd K. Packer acted as the head of the quorum in his stead.
In the April 1983 general conference, President Hinckley spoke of an ailing 88-year-old President Kimball “feeling the effects of his advanced age and the cumulative effects of the surgical procedures he has undergone in the past.”
He noted that while unable to be present in person, President Kimball “presides in his hotel apartment across the street where he joins with us as the proceedings are carried to him by closed-circuit television."
He noted that each LDS apostle “holds the keys of this dispensation in latent reserve. Inherent in that divine residual is the assured of ongoing leadership of the church.”
And President Hinckley added: “I give you my assurance that the work in the office of the First Presidency is current and up-to-date. Nothing is being neglected, and action is not postponed. We are operating under direct assignment and authorization from the president of the church, with whom we frequently meet. It is so also with the work of the Twelve, the Seventy, the Bishopric and the auxiliary organizations.”
President Monson was hospitalized briefly following the church’s April 2017 general conference, when he attended three of the five sessions. Present for the Saturday morning and evening sessions and the Sunday morning session, he spoke in the latter two and announced five new temples in his Sunday message.
He was admitted to the hospital Monday evening, April 3, described as “not feeling well” and needing treatment and fluids. He was released two evenings later to return home.