“[I]n today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”


  1. This suddenly places the latest note by TSM In a fascinating context. -

    Age eventually takes its toll on all of us. However, we join our voices with King Benjamin, who said, as recorded in the second chapter of the book of Mosiah, “I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen … and consecrated by my father, … and have been kept and preserved by [the Lord’s] matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me” (Mosiah 2:11). 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 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.

  2. “The system set up for the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve assures that it will always be in good hands and that, come what may, there is no need to worry or to fear.”
    In the LDS church, it is not uncommon for other members of the First Presidency to take on most of the responsibilities of the prophet when he faces ill health. With the unity of the brethren and such a precedent, it is not difficult to carry on even when the prophet ages etc.

  3. The rejuvenation of the position of the counselors in the First Presidency, beginning with Joseph F. Smith and peaking with Gordon B. Hinckley is a thing not in evidence in the Vatican. The College has power to elect a new Pontiff, but the 118 don’t jointly govern per se.

    In any case, truly historic.

  4. The first thing I thought when seeing that in the news this morning was: could it happen with us? And why not?

    Things have changed. Medicine allows us to live longer and longer–in many cases allowing our bodies to live longer than our minds. Certainly this happened in the past too, but it happens now with more and more frequency. I wonder if some of the 12 or the First Presidency might show this level of courage and step down if the need arose. It shouldn’t be a sign of weakness to admit our load is too heavy for our present circumstance.

  5. Didn’t Joseph contemplate and even plan to resign as Prophet, to focus more on temporal Kingdom building work, and designating Hyrum as his successor?

  6. Can’t help but feel great respect for him because of his decision.

  7. Christian J says:

    I’d guess he started to rethink things when they showed him the pope app. “Ya, the pontiff game ain’t what it used to be..”

  8. I respect his decision and the reasoning he gave for it, greatly.

    As #3 says, the structure of the top LDS Church leadership as a Presidency and a Quorum make the LDS President different than the Pope in improtant practical terms, and Elder Hinckley being the de facto practical leader of the Church for so long before he became President is the best example – but I wouldn’t object in any way if this happened in our church. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that it hasn’t happened, but I’m fine if it happens in the future.

  9. Fascinating decision by Benedict. I tuned into a radio broadcast halfway through what sounded like an obituary and found myself contemplating how he had died. That he is willingly resigning demonstrates enormous respect for the role of the Pope and the importance of his role in today’s world for the Catholic faithful.

    As for comparisons to our own faith, looking back at the Kimball, Benson days and especially the last couple of years of President Benson’s life, it’s obvious that the responsibility weighed heavily on President Hinckley. But what is important to note historically is that during the years of incapacitation of the Prophet, no major course changes were made in the Church because the counselors and Apostles specifically respected their roles and the importance of the mantle that was invested in the Prophet as the only one who had the authority to exercise all priesthood keys on earth while he was alive. The Quorum of the 12 and the counselors of the First Presidency, all Apostles who held those keys, acted in their roles and as had been delegated by the Prophet but no major shifts were enacted.

    As Mormons we almost have a fatalistic approach when it comes to the Prophet specifically due to the “unwritten” but well recognized rules of succession. We expect that the death of each Apostle reshuffles the queue of those who would be prepared to step into the responsibility of Senior Apostle and Prophet. And many believe that God takes whom He will take when He takes them specifically to prepare the queue for who should serve next. Consider the surprise that surfaced when President Harold B. Lee died so suddenly and the man that so many expected would never survive to serve given his health, Spencer Kimball, was catapulted into the calling as the next Prophet where he served with such great impact for many years.

    As a result, I cannot imagine that we will see the day that a Prophet resigns specifically because our faith so heavily focuses on the importance of counselors and Apostles to sustain and carry forth the work of God in support of their leader. Further, there is no real retirement from the calling. You are ordained as a Prophet, much as you are ordained an Apostle. So while I guess technically you could have a President emeritus much as we have Seventy emeritus, it would be a huge shift from our current and very conservative system of succession.

  10. HEdward L. Kimball, _Lengthen Your Stride_, p. 403, footnote: “In one temple meeting President Hinckley asked Spencer [Kimball] whether he had anything to say. ‘I’d like to be released,’ was his poignant answer. But there was no precedent for any such action.”

  11. One thing that struck me today is this Pope is four months older than President Monson.

  12. Adam Ellsworth says:

    I think our leaders should consider the option of resignation if they feel they can no longer fulfill their responsibilities. No Pope had resigned for six hundred years, which is a longer period of time than we’ve had a church. So Pope Benedict, in a way, discarded a greater precedent of staying-in-office-until-death than our Presidents do. All it takes is one man with the courage to say “damn tradition” and a new tradition is born.
    (I do not wish to minimize the courage of those who serve in spite of infirmity, either. I believe our leaders should give greater weight to their personal conscience than to the non-revelatory traditions of the church. The faithfulness to conscience is what is courageous, rather than a decision to serve in spite of infirmity or resign because of infirmity.)

  13. I’ve read that in the late 60s some of the bretheren raised the idea of setting an emeritus age for Apostles (therefore limiting the age that someone could be when becoming President of the Church). The idea didn’t catch on, in part because many were hesitant to interfere with the succession order at at time when President McKay was so old and in such poor health. I’m pretty sure this episode is described in Prince’s bio of McKay, but I lent my copy and haven’t seen it since . . .

    In any case, this idea would have ensured that each new President was relatively younger at the start of their administration, but I don’t think anyone suggested giving emeritus status to a sitting President. If this idea had been implemented, Presidents would likely to have more years of vitality in office, but would still probably have a few years of infirmity at the end of their term.

    If someone has the Prince bio handy, maybe you can add or correct anything that I’ve missed here.

  14. I just confirmed that the emeritus idea I referred to in #13 is described in the Prince bio of McKay (“Succession in the Presidency” starting on page 400). I was able to look up an excerpt on Apparently it was Hugh B. Brown that made the most serious proposal. There isn’t a lot of detail in the book, so maybe it wasn’t as serious or formal of an idea as I remembered.

  15. Why do members of the Church compare the President of the Corporation to the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church? Just an idle thought

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s too bad that there’s no perceived mechanism for retirement of the prophet. Such a thing get tied up with succession, and succession has historically been such a fraught issue for us, it’s difficult to imagine how this would work in the Mormon context. In the case of total incapacity of the prophet, he would remain such and the Church would be guided by his counselors until his death. But if a President Monson were to resign with his full faculties, I think he could accomplish it, because no one could claim someone else was trying to push him out. Presumably his successor would then be the senior Apostle, just as in the case of death. It would be a major procedural change, but really, if TSM stood up and said this is what I’m going to do, who would disallow it?

  17. @Wade, not sure if you are trolling, or if you are just stirring the pot.

  18. I took early retirement. It seemed like the thing to do. I still had my wits and most of my memory. It is better to go early than to have people tiptoeing behind you and whispering their plans for when you’re gone.

  19. Don’t you know that Pope Benedict was proselyted by two eager missionaries excited to share the news of the new temple being built in Italy, he took all the discussions and has decided to join the fold. He has to get rid of his day job before his March 1st baptismal date. When he told some of his Cardinals, they said he was “insane” so he included their thoughts of his deteriorating mental strength in his announcement. At least that is the story I told my daughter as we were listening to the news this morning on our way to seminary…

  20. kc, “like”.

  21. One salient difference between the Prophet and the Pope is nationality. [Quick: who is the next-ranked non-American LDS leader after Pres. Uchtdorf?]

    The pope is a non-Italian European leading a largely non-European church. He is a near-hostage in his apartments, a stranger in a strange capital within a capital of a strange country within a country, filled with geriatric careerist (largely Italian) bureaucrats, plagued by chronic embezzlement stemming from plummeting member tithing and exacerbated by profound financial naivete and credulity (clerics running a bank, seriously?!), too insular to perceive the pedophile cancer within their ranks and too defensive to correct it.

    In a very important way, the LDS corporation leads through consensus of culture and purpose as well as doctrine, in this is underpinned through an actively fostered cultural homogeneity. In start contrast, there are open persistent schismatic strains in the Catholic Church laity and clergy today (Opus Dei, Lefebrists, liberation theologists, charismatic/pentacostalists, humanists, secular/atheist cultural/cafeteria Catholics, ascetes, Tridentines, all at one time or another in near open revolt), and that list doesn’t even include theological/cultural evolutionists on issues of abortion, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, and apostolic primacy.

    To be perfectly blunt, the LDS Church could go quite a while on autopilot without a major crisis, whereas today’s Catholic Church is truly one half generation away from schism, mass defection, or reactionary counter-reformation (which would trigger the other two). Unlike when Benedict, when President Monson speaks, people listen. No wonder the poor man wants to retire.

  22. It will be fascinating to see how the next pope responds to this one — if there is a major change in direction, and if retirement becomes a regular thing or a one-off.

  23. He has, in one single act, turned the papacy into a job rather than a calling. That’s probably too blunt a characterisation but I think it is useful for a church as massive and unwieldy as the RCC (see #21) to elect a pontiff who will be more CEO than benign old man. It’s a genius move.

  24. In all fairness, I should have mentioned the many deep factors that do unite us. Largely, Catholics do agree on evolution, contraception, immigration, “social justice” (i.e. big government and a reasonably progressive tax system), environmental stewardship, and the importance of hard work and good deeds to go along with good words and good thoughts.

    The laity at least are also broadly inclined to stay out of their neighbors’ bedroom and believe that working hard for others is in no way less valuable or worthy of dignity than the vanity of entrepreneurship and self-fulfillment. Family comes first, toys are shared, divorce is still a sign of failure (if no longer shameful), there is always enough to eat, always room for another chair at the dinner table for surprise guests. Talk of money is distasteful. Talk of when your lesbian cousin is going to “make an honest woman” of her girlfriend all to common at family gatherings.Even now, these shared traits define me as a died-in-the-wool Catholic, though I am no longer Christian. Mormons love to say “I know this is true”. Catholics are content not to know and cede their lives to fate (“what can be done”).

    I would love to have a joint Catholic-Mormon family reunion over a barbeque and see all the similarities and differences at play.

  25. #21, The answer to your question is: It depends. Ecclesiastically, it’s Ulisses Soares, of the Presidency of the Seventy, who was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Temporally, it’s Bishop Gerald Causse of the Presiding Bishopric, who was born in Bordeaux, France.

  26. MikeInWeHo says:

    Oh I dunno, Dan. Do you really think Catholicism is veering toward schism? I don’t see it. As long as the Pope can say whatever extreme things he wants and the laity can ignore him, everyone seems to get along fine most of the time. I can’t imagine a crackdown coming from Rome.

    If anything Mormonism is more brittle because the culture virtually prohibits diversity of practice. There are disagreements similar to those that exist in Catholicism (how could there not be?) held beneath the surface. In Catholicism you have to do something like ordain a woman a priest to get into trouble. In Mormonism you can set off a firestorm by challenging the unwritten dress code. The difference is striking.

    Catholicism is like a big old Greek family where all the issues are on display and debated over the dinner table. Mormonism is like a little WASP family that looks perfect in every photo, and the parents say “Everything’s fine! Everything’s fine!” when of course they have problems like everybody else.

  27. MikeInWeHo returns. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. (This comment is so spot-on. Thank you.)

  28. Not having a mechanism in place for the retirement of the President of the Church has resulted in a major (and accelerating) change in church governance over the past 50 years. In the time we have had at least three Presidents who were incapacitated to some degree (McKay, Kimball and Benson). With no way out for them except their death the church governance role of the 12 has increased dramatically. Think of how many times you see reference to the entire 15 PSR’s leading the church. That is something I certainly don’t remember seeing in the distant past. Many comments about the LDS application of Pope Benedict’s decision have expressed concern at the consequences of such a change in procedure. We have already had such a change, but there seem little comment on it.

  29. ^^^ Mike with the spot-on observation, per normal.

  30. An interesting quote here: “Catholicism can recover from mistakes, but one thing the church cannot recover from is being irrelevant.”

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