A spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement Tuesday that President Thomas S. Monson, is no longer attending meetings due to his declining health, a situation that has occurred before in the Church.
Back in 1994, then first counselor in the church Gordon B. Hinckley, spoke about the failing health of church president Ezra Taft Benson.
“This is not a situation without precedent," Hinckley said. "Other presidents of the church have also been ill or unable to function fully in the closing months or years of their lives.”
In fact there have been four church presidents who have had prolonged periods of non-function in their roles.
“When the president is ill or not able to function fully in all the duties of his office, his two counselors together comprise a quorum of the first presidency," Hinckley said.
Monson’s responsibilities now fall on his two counselors, Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. But historian Gregory Prince says there’s a deeper issue.
For years now, President Monson has limited his public appearances and spoken less and less at church gatherings. And all this during a time of heightened controversy surrounding LGBT members and women’s issues in the church.
“When you don’t have a single leader of the church who is the unquestioned authority figure then it’s much more difficult to get a clear and consistent message out," says Prince.
Prince says that due to medical advances which allow the body to far outlive the mind, it’s making less sense to have church presidents serve until death and that church officials might be wise to follow the example of Pope Benedict, whose emeritus status led to the calling of Pope Francis.
But for now President Monson is still the church’s leading authority, regardless of how much or little influence he has.