Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Following Faith
Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

» Peggy Fletcher Stack E-mail

» Subscribe (RSS)

(Courtesy photo) Early in its history, church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. A revelation — removing all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood — came to church President Spencer W. Kimball (shown with Gorden B. Hinckley) and was affirmed to other church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978.
Can Mormon prophets resign? Writer says one already did — sort of

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, some Mormons began to speculate whether an LDS Church president could do the same.

Doug Gibson, writing in Ogden’s Standard-Examiner, argues that one already did so — in 1981.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

That’s when LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, then age 86, "resigned" from his position, Gibson writes, calling a spry 71-year-old Gordon B. Hinckley as a "third counselor" in the governing First Presidency and relinquishing most of his responsibilities to the younger man.

What Kimball did was similar to the pope’s action, Gibson writes, just "more subtle."

Presidents of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are considered "prophets, seers and revelators" and serve for life. When Kimball ascended to the presidency in 1973, he had already suffered serious health setbacks, including throat cancer, but was relatively vigorous. However, in 1979, the Mormon leader began to have subdural hematomas that required draining, and the process left him disoriented.

"Spencer’s personality after this surgery underwent a temporary change," Gibson writes, quoting from a biography by Edward Kimball, the president’s son. "Everyone became an enemy. He said hurtful things to (his wife) Camilla. He castigated the doctor for letting him go on a trip to Australia when no preparations had been made (they were in the U.S.). Camilla retreated to cry alone. … "

In the summer of 1981, Kimball’s mental "fog" lifted briefly, during which time he tapped Hinckley to help carry the leaders’ load. (Kimball’s two counselors, N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney, also were too old and infirm to run the ever-expanding church.)

After Hinckley was in place, Kimball "seemed to revert at once to his former condition and general ill health," Edward Kimball wrote, and "the fog descended again."

The once-charismatic president spent his final years largely sequestered in an apartment at what was then the Hotel Utah, suffering "constant pain, frequent disorientation, sleeplessness, near blindness and near deafness," Gibson writes, while Hinckley attended to the LDS Church’s affairs.

Kimball died in November 1985 at age 90. Hinckley eventually would rise to the top of the LDS leadership ranks himself, serving as the faith’s president from March 1995 until his death in January 2008 at age 97.

"Whether or not one believes that God reveals his will to LDS prophets, or any other person, what Kimball did almost 33 years ago was the Mormon equivalent of what Pope Benedict XVI did on Feb. 11," Gibson writes, "craft a plan that removed an aging leader from power."

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.