Who Are Our Leaders? A Mormon-Catholic Comparison

by admin

Subscribe to Nearing Kolob by Email


There are many similarities (and differences) between the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church. While relations today are “good” that wasn’t always the case as the Catholic Church took the brunt of criticism while being denounced as the “church of the devil” by some former LDS leaders. It was even a topic of report when Mitt Romney (a Mormon) chose Paul Ryan (a Catholic) as his running mate. But that is not the point of this post.

One common feature between the two churches is the priesthood. Both claim to have a direct line of authority that can be traced back to Christ. Both churches have an all-male priesthood. And both churches have a strict hierarchy. However, the people chosen to fill the spots within the hierarchy couldn’t be more different. Here I will present some data followed by brief commentary regarding the make-up of the two hierarchies.

Corporation Sole

Both the LDS and Catholic churches use legal entities known as corporation soles to manage properties and money such that there is a smooth legal transition between successors (where transitions nearly always occur upon the death of the previous leader). The LDS Church’s corporation sole is “The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (organized 1923) and is used to receive and manage money.  There is also a second corporation known as “The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (organized 1916). Two great resources on the LDS Church as a corporation come from Daymon Smith: podcast and book. The Tax Identification Number for the Corporation of the President can be found here.

The Catholic church also uses corporation soles as do many other churches.


Both the LDS and Catholic churches have a strict hierarchy. The LDS leader is the President of the Church who is considered a prophet, seer, and revelator and is colloquially called “the Prophet”. The President is the head of the First Presidency, the governing body of the Church.  Below the First Presidency is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, each of whom is also considered prophets, seers, and revelators. Other “General Authorities” include the Presidency of the Seventy, the first two Quorums of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. Currently, I count 103 active General Authorities of the LDS Church (additionally, there are 54 Emeritus General Authorities).

The Catholic is also hierarchical. It is led by the Pope who is assisted by the College of the Cardinals. There are currently 213 cardinals (125 are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in conclave).


Below is a figure with pictures of all the General Authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


After a quick Google search of “Board of Directors”, it was interesting to find that the LDS leadership’s pictures look quite similar to those of leaders in finance and the corporate world rather than that of Catholic leaders.  Compare the two pictures below: the first of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the second of the Board of Directors for the Wilson Bank & Trust Board of Directors in Tennessee. Both have 12 older men, all of whom are white, dressed in business suits with white shirts and ties (except the lone blue shirt in the second picture). Both even have 7 men in the back and 5 in the front.  Stunning is the similarity.




Training of Leaders

Even though the two pictures above may look the same, they are of two very different groups of people, right?  The apostles and other general authorities of the LDS Church are religious men, more akin to the College of Cardinals not the Board of Directors of a bank, right? Well, let’s see.

While I don’t know the educational training of the Board of Directors of Wilson Bank & Trust, their profiles list most of them as businessmen, CEOs, VPs, and some with background in farming.

Using data from both Wikipedia and lds.org, I created a list of educational degrees of all the LDS General Authorities. Here are the number of people with advanced degrees in each Quorum/group (note: Masters = Masters not including MBAs and in parentheses is the number of members of each Quorum/group):

  • First Presidency (3): 2 MBAs, 1 Doctorate
  • Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (12): 2 MBAs, 3 JDs, 1 MDs, 3 Masters, 3 Doctorates
  • Presidency of the Seventy (7): 2 MBAs, 2 JDs, 1 Masters
  • First Quorum of the Seventy (59): 10 MBAs, 12 JDs, 1 MD, 1 Homeopathy, 16 Masters, 4 Doctorates
  • Second Quorum of the Seventy (19): 1 MBA, 3 JDs, 3 Masters, 5 MDs, 1 DDS
  • Presiding Bishopric (3): 1 MBA

Combined we find, of the 103 General Authorities, there are 18 with MBAs, 20 with JDs, 25 with Masters (not MBAs), 9 MDs/DDSs, and 9 with Doctorates.

Surely, the diversity must be hiding in the general category of “Masters” that must be where the engineers, theologians, and scientists are hiding. This is the list of Masters (not MBAs) degrees achieved:

  • First Presidency: none
  • Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Education, Religious Education, American Studies, Organizational Communication
  • Presidency of the Seventy: International Management
  • First Quorum of the Seventy: Political Science, International Management, International Politics, Certificate in Business Administration, Public Administration, Counseling and Guidance, Public Administration, International Relations, Organizational Behavior, Political Philosophy, Business Information Systems and Education, Accounting, International Relations, Education, Physical Education, Business Economics
  • Second Quorum of the Seventy: Air Force Fighter Weapons School, Finance, Business Marketing, Applied Finance
  • Presiding Bishopric: “Advanced Executive Programs”

So where are the engineers, theologians, and scientists? Well, there not a single General Authority has an advanced degree engineering or the hard sciences (Elder Scott arguably has equivalent training). Not a single General Authority has training in theology or biblical studies.

If we consider undergraduate degrees, there are 4 engineering degrees, 1 Physics, 1 Zoology, 2 Biology, and 1 Mathematics. The majority of this small group went on to Business or Medical school.

So, if think are leaders are closer to the College of Cardinals than the Board of Directors above, lets see how the Cardinals have been trained.  Luckily, this information was compiled by Anthony Judge last year. There were 126 voting Cardinals considered in analysis. He looked at their training and divided them into two disciplines: social science and natural science. He found  only 12 had training in the natural sciences and none had training in business, economics, law (not canon law), or political science. The vast majority were trained in theology, philosophy, and canon law. Judge admits that there is a requirement that bishops “hold a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology or canon law, from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least be well versed in these disciplines.” However, I don’t think the two groups (LDS General Authorities and the College of Cardinals) could be much more different regarding the training of its members.

Judge continues in his commentary to lament the absence of individuals trained in science, “most notably in mathematics“, due to the unexplored potential between science, mathematics, and spirituality and human bonding.

For a visual depiction (with details) of the educational background of LDS general authorities see the legend and image below.




Noteworthy is the large number MBAs, Masters in Management/Finance, and JDs represented in all groups, as well as the large number of MDs/DDSs in the Second Quorum of the Seventy. There also appears to be a large amount of undergraduate degrees in the business related fields. Finally, note the single green box in all the categories of advanced degrees representing science, mathematics, and engineering (marking Richard Scotts’ advanced training in nuclear engineering).

It is also worth noting that many non-American General Authorities worked for the LDS Church before becoming GAs: Carlos H. Amado (CES), Claudio R.M. Costa (CES), Francisco J. Vinas (CES), Walter F. Gonzalez (CES), Benjamin De Hoyos (CES), Ulisses Soares (Director of Temporal Affairs in Sao Paulo), Joseph Sitati (LDS Church Director of Public Affairs in Africa).

Regarding training among the Catholic Cardinals, Tom Jacobs said:

So what are their degrees in? Theology is the most popular subject by some distance, with philosophy taking a solid second place. Of the handful of other disciplines, only four of the cardinals have studied psychology, and only one economics.

While on one level, this isn’t at all surprising, it’s worth contemplating. These men—and one of them in particular—will be handing down decisions that spell out ethical rules impacting a variety of fields, including medicine. Wouldn’t it be nice if the group included some voices that could explain the latest scientific understanding of the workings of mind and body?

Only one Cardinal was trained in economics?! Maybe they can borrow a few of our leaders–we’ve got dozens of those guys.

I think we Mormons can echo Tom Jacob’s concern with regards to our own leadership: “These men—and one of them in particular—will be handing down decisions that spell out ethical rules impacting a variety of fields… Wouldn’t it be nice if the group included some voices that could explain the latest” understanding in biblical studies, theology, and science rather than the newest ideas and advancements in business, law, finance, and management? Wouldn’t it be nice if morality and ethics were being taught by more people with training in theology and philosophy rather than business, law, and medicine. Certainly there are things those trained in business, law, and management can teach us, but–to put it bluntly–doesn’t it seem strange to have a church run by mostly businessmen and lawyers without a single General Authority having received training in theology or biblical studies? We are led by experts in business, law, and management and amateurs in theology. Catholics seem to be led by experts in theology and religion but amateurs in finance, business, and management.

For details on the educational background of Catholic Cardinals see an extract of Andrew Judge’s post can be seen in the PDF below:


Andrew Sullivan notes that in the case of the Catholic church: ” this self-selected group – almost all appointed by Wojtila and Ratzinger – are unlikely to see that. It’s the blind leading the blind.”

Similarly, in the LDS Church all the Seventies were called by Gordon B. Hinckley or Thomas S. Monson (except Carlos H. Amado who was called by Ezra Taft Benson in 1992 when Gordon B. Hinckley was effectively running the Church). In a similar way, it is the blind leading the blind. There is more diversity among who called current apostles to their position, but still two-thirds were called by Hinckley or Monson and it is arguable how much influence Hinckley had when Benson and Kimball called new apostles. If we consider his influence high once he was called to the First Presidency, then 80% of today’s apostle were from Hinckley or Monson. The exception being, of course, Monson called by McKay, Packer called by Joseph Fielding Smith, and Perry called during Kimball’s early years.

First Presidency:

  • Thomas S. Monson called by David O. McKay
  • Henry B. Eyring called by Gordon B. Hinckley
  • Dieter F. Uchtdorf called by Gordon B. Hinckley

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

  • Boyd K. Packer  called by Joseph Fielding Smith
  • L. Tom Perry called by Spencer W. Kimball
  • Russell M. Nelson called by Spencer W. Kimball
  • Dallin H. Oaks called by Spencer W. Kimball
  • M. Russell Ballard called by Spencer W. Kimball
  • Richard G. Scott called by Ezra Taft Benson
  • Robert D. Hales called by Ezra Taft Benson
  • Jeffrey R. Holland called by Howard W. Hunter
  • David A. Bednar called by Gordon B. Hinckley
  • Quentin L. Cook called by Gordon B. Hinckley
  • D. Todd Christofferson called by Thomas S. Monson
  • Neil L. Andersen called by Thomas S. Monson

Past Leaders

The LDS Church’s leadership did not always have a dearth of people trained as scientists and non-businessmen. In the past there have been some well-known leaders that were trained scientists. First, there was Orson Pratt who was a Benjamin Franklin type figure with diverse skills and interests. He was an outspoken apostle as well as a philosopher, historian, astrologist, and mathematician. With a strong interest in astronomy, Pratt taught lectures to LDS members on the subject.  He also had two publications: New and Easy Method of Solution of the Cubic and Biquadratic Equations (1866) and Key to the Universe (1879). Pratt was excommunicated in 1842 and rebaptized soon after, rejoining the Quorum in January 1843.  Had he not been excommunicated he would have had seniority in the Quorum upon Brigham Young’s death, thereby becoming Church President instead of John Taylor.

Pratt’s interest in astronomy was so great that he built an observatory on the grounds on the Salt Lake Temple (see below). This was the inspiration for the name of the newly formed organization The Temple and Observatory Group that host seminars with scholars such as Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens on topics of faith, doubt, belief, and discipleship.

Pratt Observatory

During the first half of the 20th century, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had a healthy representation of the sciences with, at one point (Oct. 1931 – July 1933), three members having PhDs as scientists and engineers:

  • James E. Talmage: apostle Dec. 1911 – July 1933. PhD in Geology from Illinois Wesleyan University (1896) (also studied at Johns Hopkins University). Geology Professor at the University of Utah. Appointed apostle by Joseph F. Smith.
  • John A. Widtsoe: apostle March 1921 – Nov. 1952. PhD in Chemistry from Göttingen University (1899). Wrote the book Joseph Smith As Scientist. Appointed apostle by Heber J. Grant.
  • Joseph F. Merrill: apostle Oct. 1931 – Feb. 1952. PhD in Physics from Johns Hopkins University (1899). First native Utahn to receive a PhD. Director of the School of Mines at the University of Utah. In 1895 he became the first principal of the University of Utah College of Engineering. Appointed apostle by Heber J. Grant.

Having members of the Quorum with background and understanding in science lead to diversity of thought and relatively progressive ideas (or, at least, relative openness to those with progressive leanings) for a religious community of the time.

Joseph Fielding Smith is quoted having said the following about Joseph F. Merrill:

I marveled at his energy. Apparently he never got tired; he loved the truth. He loved the truth of science, but he loved more the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ … He had a strong will, was pronounced in his opinions, but he was always submissive to the majority decisions of his brethren.

Why is such diversity important? For example, let’s consider biological evolution and the publication of Man, His Origin and Destiny by Joseph Fielding Smith. During the first half of the 20th century there debate both inside and outside of the LDS Church regarding evolution. Not surprisingly, the three scientists in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (mentioned above) supported evolution while Joseph Fielding Smith (among others) opposed it. President of the Church Heber Grant set the issue to the side and that remained the case for the Church until 1952 when Joseph Merrill (the last of the three scientists ) died. Upon his death Joseph Fielding Smith published his book that condemned evolution in the way that only he or Bruce R. McConkie could have done.

President David O. McKay also claimed to have believed in evolution (see David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism). However, Joseph Fielding Smith pushed for his conservative view to be taught in the Church Educational System. He remained somewhat in check until President McKay’s passing. Unfortunately, scientists are almost absent in representation among LDS Church leadership now-a-days.

Countries Represented in Leadership

Where are these men from?

  • First Presidency (3): USA (2), Germany (1)
  • Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (12): USA (12)
  • Presidency of the Seventy (7): USA (6), Brazil (1)
  • First Quorum of the Seventy (59): USA (31), Brazil (3), Guatemala (2), Mexico (2), Mexico Colonies (2), Uruguay (2), Argentina (1), Canada (1), Chile (1), England (1), Japan (1)
  • Second Quorum of the Seventy (19): USA (15), Australia (1), Brazil (1), Canada (1), Sweden (1), Kenya (1), New Zealand (1), Peru (1), Philippines (1), Portugal (1) , Scotland (1), South Africa (1), South Korea (1), Spain (1), Venezuela (1), West Germany (1), Zimbabwe (1)
  • Presiding Bishopric (3): USA (2), France (1)

This can be viewed pictorially in the image below:


As well as a country’s LDS membership per General Authority from that country (below). The red line indicates the total church membership per General Authority. So, be one measure, the countries with blue lines to the right of the red line are under-represented in general Church leadership and those to the left are over-represented. Interestingly, every South American country is under-represented among General Authorities (as well as Mexico and Philippines). Since this list only includes countries with at least one General Authority, countries not listed can be imagined as having a blue line that extends infinitely to the right and therefore are also under-represented.


How does the nationality diversity compare among Catholic Cardinals. Their equivalent figures are below.

CardinalsPerCountryCountry Catholic Population per # of Cardinals from that Country

It’s intriguing that in the Catholic leadership, just as in the LDS leadership, the South American countries and the Philippines are under-represented. And (not surprisingly), the most Cardinals come from Italy where the most LDS General Authorities come from the USA.


So, are the LDS General Authorities more like the College of Cardinals or the Board of Directors of a bank? In training and educational background it is clear they have much more in common with the Board of Directors than Cardinals. Most Cardinals are trained in theological areas while most General Authorities have training in business, management, law, or medicine. This business-oriented approach to running the Lord’s church is an important, and legitimate, concern among many members. Some choose to stay while others leave.

There was even a recent controversy that came up regarding a bank being built in Boise, Idaho. Many people complained that the bank resembled a Mormon temple. While are older temples look like cathedrals are our newer temples starting to look like banks?




Subscribe to Nearing Kolob by Email