Utah’s top religion stories for 2017 — an absent Mormon prophet, a present Catholic bishop, a Protestant anniversary and much more

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Thomas S. Monson shakes hands with counselors President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in his Salt Lake City apartment as he nears his 90th birthday on August 21, 2017.

Thomas S. Monson, like all Mormon prophets, is known for what he does: making unexpected visits to widows, lowering the age of missionary service, announcing new temples.

In 2017, though, the 90-year-old Monson made headlines mainly for what he didn’t do — attend fall General Conference — and for what he no longer can do: Go to the office and oversee the daily operations of a global faith.

Soon after the April conference, during which he gave two short sermons and unveiled plans to build Utah’s 18th temple, this one in Saratoga Springs, Monson was hospitalized briefly.

Then, in May, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported that its aging and ailing leader has handed over duties to his two counselors in the governing First Presidency, whom he “communicates and confers with … as needed.”

Monson’s absence hit home for the world’s nearly 16 million Mormons five months later, when the faith’s 16th president did not make it to any session of General Conference — a first in his 54 years of full-time church service.

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Elder Robert D. Hales speaks during General Conference on April 5, 2014. He died Oct. 1, 2017, at age 85.

The autumn gathering had another missing leader: Robert D. Hales. The 85-year-old apostle died 15 minutes after the Sunday morning session Oct. 1, ending 23 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and more than 40 years as an LDS general authority.

In other Mormon news from the past year:

(Courtesy LDS Church) Former LDS general authority James J. Hamula

• James J. Hamula, after a disciplinary council involving the church’s top leaders, in August became the first general authority in nearly three decades to be excommunicated.

• MormonLeaks offered a peek at how much top LDS officials are paid when it posted pay stubs for Henry B. Eyring, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and now the first counselor in the First Presidency. In 2000, his salary was about $89,000. A 2014 memo put the “base living allowance” for general authorities at $120,000. A church spokesman said all these full-time top authorities — from the highest-ranking apostle to the newest Seventy — earn the same amount.

• The Salt Lake City-based faith stepped further away from the Boy Scouts of America. In May, the LDS Church, the BSA’s largest sponsor, announced it was dropping the Scouts’ Varsity and Venturing programs for boys ages 14 to 18. Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops for boys ages 8 to 13 will continue. And, by that, the church does mean boys. In October, when the BSA said it will open its ranks to girls — as it previously did for gay and transgender individuals — the LDS Church said its programs for girls would remain the same. But bigger changes could come. The church has made plain that it desires to have — and is “developing” — a program outside of Scouting that will serve all of its young people around the world.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham, center, with her counselors, Sharon Eubank and Reyna I. Aburto, at the General Women's Session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City, Saturday Sept. 23, 2017.

• During the year, the LDS Church named a new trio to head the women’s Relief Society, christened an expanded flagship Missionary Training Center, in Provo, unveiled new standardized interview questions for prospective missionaries, endorsed an LGBTQ fundraising rock concert in Orem, hosted President Donald Trump at Salt Lake City’s Welfare Square, revealed plans for shorter General Conferences (and heightened visibility for the women’s session), loosened the dress code for church employees (light-colored shirts for men and dress pants for women are now OK) and upped their parental leave benefits.

• LDS leaders also dedicated a new temple in Cedar City, and paved the way for single men over age 30 and recently divorced members to serve as temple volunteers. In other policy shifts, boys 16 and older will be allowed to perform vicarious baptisms for the dead while teenage girls will be able to work in temple baptistries. Annual “Priesthood Preview” presentations to prepare Mormon boys to enter the all-male priesthood now will be called “Temple and Priesthood Preparation” and will include girls as well as boys.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students fill up their cups with caffeinated Coca-Cola products on BYU campus for the first time, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

• And, in good news for late-night-cramming students at Brigham Young University, the Provo school — following LDS Business Collegelifted its ban and began selling caffeinated colas on campus in September.

The ‘Snufferites’

An offshoot of mainstream Mormonism, the Remnant movement, continued to gain strength. The emerging group, loosely led by Denver Snuffer, a Sandy attorney who was excommunicated in 2013 by the LDS Church for “apostasy,” claims some 5,000 to 10,000 members.

Hundreds of so-called “Snufferites,” who yearn for a return to the teachings of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, gathered in Idaho in September to canonize a new set of scriptures, a reworking of the LDS Church’s foundational text, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members in Denver Snuffer's Remnant movement meet in a Sandy home Sunday, Aug. 13, to sing songs and take sacrament. Many in the movement believe that the LDS Church has strayed from its origins from Joseph Smith and reject the present structure and authority and believe anyone can receive revelations.


An older, more established breakaway sect, the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, saw more turmoil.

Lyle Jeffs, a one-time FLDS leader, was captured after nearly a year on the lam and eventually sentenced to almost five years in prison for his part in a scheme to defraud the federal food-stamp program and for fleeing.

Members fled as well, not from justice but from their homes in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Amid property disputes with a land trust, FLDS followers are relocating in Utah and elsewhere.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune FLDS children carry belongings as they are evicted from their Colorado City, AZ, home by the UEP Trust after refusing to sign an occupancy agreement, Wednesday May 10, 2017.

And, in November, in a sure-fire sign that the FLDS grip is weakening on its border stronghold, Hildale residents elected a mayor and three City Council members who are not loyal to the polygamous sect.


After a nearly two-year wait, Utah’s 300,000-plus Catholics had reason to rejoice in January, when Pope Francis appointed Oscar A. Solis as the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.

A historic choice, Solis, the first Filipino to head a U.S. diocese, wasted little time after his March installment in setting the tone for his tenure.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The faithful kiss the hand of Bishop Oscar A. Solis after his installation ceremony as the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Salt Lake City at the Cathedral of the Madeleine on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.

In office barely a month, he issued a pastoral letter and challenged his followers to learn their religion, spread the Christian gospel, and lift those in need.

At year’s end, Solis, a self-deprecating and spiritually steadfast shepherd, urged Catholics to pray for 40 straight days for an end to abortion and euthanasia, while seeking increased devotion to help the poor, the homeless, immigrants, refugees and the mentally challenged.

A year that brought the long-awaited arrival of a new bishop also saw the departure of a Catholic landmark: the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity. The beloved Huntsville monastery closed down in the summer after a 70-year run. The last of the aging Trappist monks left. The hopeful prayers they offered and the creamed honey they sold became a sweet memory.

Utah Catholics also mourned the death of a former bishop. George H. Niederauer, who led the Diocese of Salt Lake City from 1994 to 2005, died May 2 of pulmonary thrombosis in San Rafael, Calif. The gregarious and literature-loving clergyman was 80.

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Bishop George Niederauer spreads incense during his farewell Mass at The Cathedral of the Madeleine Feb. 5, 2006.

On other faith fronts

• Congregation Kol Ami is searching for a new rabbi. Ilana Schwartzman — with her husband and new daughter — is leaving after guiding Utah’s largest Jewish congregation for more than seven years, to be closer to family on the East Coast.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman, Congregation Kol Ami, speaks about the faith groups that will be praying for the homeless on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.

• Utah Muslims — and allies stretching across Utah’s faith spectrum from Catholics priests to Protestant pastors and Mormon lawyers — rallied to support those threatened by President Donald Trump’s toughened policies on immigrants and refugees, including a “travel ban” that affected a number of mostly Muslim countries.

• Utah Protestants observed the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “95 Theses,” which set the stage for the Reformation. In October, Lutherans and Catholics marked the occasion by praying together in a special service at Salt Lake City’s Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Imam Yussef Abdi speaks to men gathered for Friday prayers at Madina Masjid Islamic Center in Salt Lake City, Friday March 10, 2017. Religious and community leaders gathered at the center in support of their Muslim Brothers and Sisters, regarding ICE activities and the detention of a Kenyan couple.

Christ United Methodist Church celebrated its 125th anniversary in the Salt Lake Valley, while Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church marked its golden anniversary.

(AP-Photo/HO) Martin Luther provided the intellectual underpinning for the Reformation. This picture shows him in his study.

Return to Story