The Mormon Church has excommunicated one of its top leaders, church officials confirmed Tuesday. It was not immediately clear why.
“This morning, James J. Hamula was released as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, following Church disciplinary action by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” read a statement from Eric Hawkins, a spokesman.
Hawkins declined to give details on the reason, but the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News in Utah cited church sources as saying it was not for “apostasy or disillusionment.” Among the reasons the church handbook gives for excommunicating leaders are adultery, burglary, embezzlement, spousal abuse and “homosexual relations.”
The Tribune and the News reported that Hamula was the first top authority of the church to be excommunicated in 28 years.
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Hamula was a member of the roughly 80-member First Quorum of the Seventy. That body is just below the church president — very roughly akin to a pope — and the Twelve Apostles. Within the Quorum, Hamula had one of the prime leadership positions; he was executive director of the Correlations Department, which oversees making sure church rules and laws are clearly communicated and kept.
Being excommunicated means you are no longer considered part of the Mormon Church. Hamula being removed is the equivalent of a Catholic archbishop being removed from the Catholic Church, said church historian Greg Prince. Prince added that excommunications are more common in the Mormon Church, however.
Mormons who face excommunication go before an all-male discipline board. The board who judged Hamula was made up of his high-ranking peers: the president and the Twelve Apostles.
The Salt Lake Tribune quoted from a talk Hamula gave in October 2008 to a Salt Lake audience of teenage boys, urging them to “win the war against evil,” the report said.
“Satan is marshaling every resource at his disposal to entice you into transgression,” he said. “He knows that if he can draw you into transgression, he may prevent you from serving a full-time mission, marrying in the temple and securing your future children in the faith, all of which weakens not only you but the church. … Make no mistake about it — the focus of his war is now on you, you who seek to keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Hamula was a lawyer before he was called to his position in the First Quorum of the Seventy. He was born in California and is married with six children.
Prince said the average member of the church wouldn’t know Hamula by name, despite his high-ranking job. That is because the leadership network has grown so much in recent decades with growth in the church. Sixty years ago, Prince said, there were seven members of the First Quorum. The number of church members has grown in that period from about 1 million to 15 million.