ST. GEORGE, Utah — Following Tuesday nights announcement of the death of President Thomas S. Monson, questions have already emerged about who will be the next prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
According to a statement previously released by the church, the appointment of a new president is viewed by members as a "divinely revealed process" free of internal lobbying.
Following the death of the president, the First Presidency is automatically dissolved and the two counselors in the First Presidency return to positions of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In this situation, that would be President Henry B. Eyring and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who served as Monson's two counselors since he assumed the Prophet role in 2008.
A senior apostle is then determined based on who has the highest ranking seniority from the date when they were ordained to the Twelve. The longest-tenured member of the governing body is 93-year-old Russell M. Nelson. His appointment will not be officially named until after Monson's funeral services, out of respect.
The senior apostle will then preside over a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve to consider two alternatives: should the First Presidency be reorganized or should they just move forward with the Quorum of the Twelve? A formal motion will be made and accepted.
If the motion to reorganize is passed, the Quorum of the Twelve will unanimously select the new president, who will assume the top role in the nearly 16 million-member church. The decision is predetermined, though.
"Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized," according to a church release.
The next president has not been named yet, but based on this information the job is expected to go to Nelson. He has served nearly 34 years after being first called to service in 1984.
After being officially selected, he will then choose two counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve to form a three-person presidency considered the religion's top governing body.
The second-longest serving apostle will be designated as the new president of the Quorum of the Twelve after the reorganization of the First Presidency. This would be Dallin H. Oaks, who has served for 33 years and nine months.
There have been 16 presidents, including Monson, since the founding of the LDS Church by Joseph Smith in 1830.
The choosing of the prophet differs from the choosing of other religious heads. For instance, traditionally, there is a 15- to 20-day waiting period from the death of a pope to the start of a conclave, the process of choosing the next leader of the Catholic Church.
At the start of a conclave — Latin for "with key," referring to the voters being locked inside the Sistine Chapel — the 115 cardinals move into the Domus Santa Marta, a modest five-story building tucked securely behind Vatican walls.
After morning prayers, the first balloting takes place, the Rev. Thomas Reese, author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, told USA TODAY in 2013, during the selection of Pope Francis, who succeeded retiring Pope Benedict.
After the first day, then there are customarily four votes per day, trying to reach a two-thirds majority of the cardinals. In 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was chosen on the second day on the fifth ballot and became Pope Francis. Reese noted the last time a conclave lasted more than four days was in 1831.
Contributing: Marco della Cava, USA TODAY. Follow Bree Burkitt on Twitter: @breeburkitt