The Mormon church excommunicated James J. Hamula, marking the first dismissal of a major church leader in nearly three decades.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the church is officially known, said Hamula was removed Tuesday.
“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,” a statement read. It provided no details.
Hamula was serving as a member of The First Quorum of the Seventy, one of Mormonism’s highest order of priests. Members have a “special call and ordination to preach the Gospel and serve as ‘special witnesses’ of Christ to the world,” according to the church.
The church confirmed to CNN affiliate KSTU-TV that Hamula’s dismissal was not because of apostasy, or an abandonment of religious beliefs, but did not elaborate on why he was being dismissed. Mormon experts said excommunications are rare, and that former Mormons may be accepted back into the church through repentance and rebaptism.
CNN’s efforts Wednesday to reach Hamula were not immediately successful.
Hamula’s biography on the LDS website shows he served the church in a variety of roles. He was missionary in the Germany Munich Mission, a bishop and president of the Washington, D.C., South Mission. He was serving as executive director of the correlation department when he was dismissed.
The last excommunication for a leader came in 1989. That person was accused of “apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the church.”
John Dehlin, founder of the podcast “Mormon Stories” was excommunicated from the church in 2015 for denying core Mormon doctrines. Dehlin has said he suspected his support for female ordination and same-sex marriage, both of which Mormon leaders oppose, was behind the effort to excommunicate him.
“It’s just a really sad and a terrible experience,” Dehlin told KSTU-TV. “My heart is with Elder Hamula and his family because it is just so humiliating to have not only allegations, but speculations spread across the world.”
Excommunication is the most extreme punishment the church’s disciplinary council can impose on a member of the church, according to the LDS website.
“This is a course of last resort and is only taken when less serious disciplinary measures are insufficient,” the description reads.
The church states on its website that all disciplinary matters are “carried out in complete confidence” and church leaders have “a responsibility to keep confidential all information they receive in confessions and interviews.”
Dehlin said the church’s confidentiality policies make the experience painful.
“It just muddies the waters and contributes to the shame.”
Jana Riess, a Mormon writer, said she sees both sides of the church’s debate about whether the reasons for excommunications should be confidential.
“On the one hand, confidentiality can protect excommunicants and their families from unwanted and unhelpful judgment. It leaves the door open for a potential rebaptism and restoration of blessings,” Riess wrote in a column for Religion News Service.
“You can also argue that gossip thrives in the absence of real information. I have heard of cases, for example, where a church member has been excommunicated for apostasy or lack of belief but has then been excoriated in the Mormon Rumor Mill for a host of other fabricated reasons. …”