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NEW MORMON LEADER, 80, PLANS TO STAY THE COURSE

The new president and prophet of the Mormon church is in some respects a throwback, an 80-year-old man with a fondness for talking in parables and quoting Charles Dickens.

But Thomas Monson is also described as a student of a fast-changing world and his faith's place in it. He oversaw the building of a Mormon temple behind the Iron Curtain and was at ease visiting the Catholic cathedral in Salt Lake City, friends say.

Monson was named as the 16th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday and immediately declared that the 13-million-member denomination would not veer significantly from the course set by his predecessor, Gordon Hinckley, who died Jan. 27 at age 97.

He takes over at a time when the church is undergoing rapid growth around the globe and coming under close scrutiny because of Mormon Mitt Romney's campaign for the White House.

"There will be no abrupt changes in the courses we've been pursuing," Monson said. "Although procedures and programs may be adjusted from time to time, the doctrine is constant."

Monson pledged to continue building bridges with people of other faiths and held up young Mormons as "beacons of goodness" in "a world of shifting values and standards."

Asked about his health, Monson said his diabetes is "under control totally," and would not prevent him from traveling extensively, as Hinckley did.

As the longest-tenured of 14 apostles who served the church president, Monson was all but assured of taking over the presidency, in keeping with long-standing church practice.

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