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Top Mormon leader Boyd Packer dies

Mormon leader Boyd Packer, president of the faith's highest governing body, has died at 90.

Mr Packer died at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah, from natural causes, church spokesman Eric Hawkins said.

Known for being a staunch advocate for a conservative form of Mormonism and an outspoken critic of homosexuality, Mr Packer was next in line to become president of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He had been a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1970. The group is modelled on Jesus Christ's apostles and serves under the church president and his two counsellors.

He is the second member of quorum to die in recent months. Tom Perry died on May 30 from cancer.

Quorum member Russell Nelson, 90, now becomes the leader who would take Mormon president Thomas Monson's place. Mr Monson is 87 and church officials have said he is feeling the effects of his age.

Replacements for Mr Packer and Mr Perry will be chosen in the coming months by Mr Monson, considered the religion's prophet.

Members of the faith believe those decisions are guided by inspiration from God. Some past quorum members have been moved up from another governing body, the Quorum of the Seventy, while others have come from leadership posts at church-run universities.

When Mr Packer was chosen for the group, he was already working for the church.

Born in Brigham City, Utah, hed was a bomber pilot during the Second World War and earned an undergraduate degree from Utah State University and a master's in educational administration from Brigham Young University.

During his 45 years as a member of the quorum, Mr Packer became known as a fearless defender of the gospel and master teacher of church principles, the church said.

Fellow church leaders called him a true apostle for the religion.

"From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, he represented the saviour of the world," said quorum member Russell Ballard.

"President Packer always felt that if we could read the words of the Lord we would be far better off and much safer than speculating with our own ideas."

Mr Packer spent most of his adult life working for the church and earned a reputation of being a tenacious advocate for his orthodox views on Mormonism, said Patrick Mason, chairman of the religion department and professor of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Some called him a bulldog, but Mr Packer preferred the biblical analogy of "watchman on the tower", Mr Mason said.

He was known for having a major influence within the church hierarchy and bureaucracy, having mentored at least one, if not two, generations of church leaders and bureaucrats, Mr Mason said.

Mr Packer is remembered for giving a speech in 1993 in which he warned that the religion faced the greatest threat from three groups: feminists, homosexuals and intellectuals.

In 2010 he denounced homosexual attraction as unnatural and immoral and his hostility made him a target of gay rights advocates in recent years , said Armand Mauss, a Mormon scholar and retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

In 2013 a Utah gay rights organisation started a petition to protest the naming of a new Weber State University centre after Mr Packer.

Mr Mauss said Mr Packer would be remembered "for an unyielding resistance to the secular, social world, especially as that world evolved during his lifetime".

The church credits Mr Packer with being a key driver of the religion's growth into a worldwide religion that now counts 15 million members.

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