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New Asian-American, Brazilian apostles make Mormon history

March 30, 2018

With 1.4 million members, Brazil has the second-most in the world along with Mexico. Both rank behind the United States, which has about 6.6 million members.

Like the previous 12 men chosen for the Quorum, Soares and Gong were serving in a lower-level leadership panel for the church.

The 59-year-old Soares was an accountant and auditor for multinational corporations in Brazil before joining church leadership, according to a church biography. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The 64-year-old Gong worked for the U.S. State Department, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and Mormon-owned Brigham Young University before being selected for the lower-tier church leadership panel. He was born in Redwood City, California.

Their selections come during the first conference presided over by Nelson, a 93-year-old former heart surgeon who was appointed the 17th president in January following the death of president Thomas S. Monson, who served for a decade.

Members of the the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Gerrit W. Gong, right, and his wife Susan Lindsay walk off as Ulisses Soares, left, of Brazil, receives a hug from his wife Rosana Fernandes on March 31, 2018, in Salt Lake City.Rick Bowmer / AP

The conference comes as the faith grapples with heightened scrutiny about its handling of sexual abuse reports and one-on-one interviews between local lay leaders and youth.

The religion this week announced updated guidelines for the reporting of sexual abuse following news that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s.

The new guidelines call on lay leaders to never disregard a report of abuse or encourage a person to stay in an abusive home. They also say children can bring a parent or other adult to one-one-one interviews with local church leaders. Parents previously were allowed only in a hallway or adjacent room. Youth can still go alone if they choose.

Some say the changes fall short.

On Friday, about 1,000 Mormons and ex-Mormons marched to the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters to deliver petitions demanding an end to the closed door, one-on-one meetings that start at age 12, along with the sexual questions they sometimes include.

Mormon spokeswoman Irene Caso said in a statement Friday the faith condemns any inappropriate behavior or abuse regardless of when or where it occurs, and that church leaders are given instructions for youth interviews.

The statement also seemed to express a willingness to change: “As with any practice in the Church, we continually look for ways to improve and adjust by following the Savior in meeting the needs of our members.”

Nelson is expected to speak at this weekend’s conference, but it’s unknown if he’ll address the issue or the larger topic of sexual misconduct that has been thrust into the national spotlight by the #MeToo movement. Church leaders usually focus their conference speeches on spiritual guidance and religious themes.