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Mormon Women's Group Founder Kate Kelly Excommunicated

Image: Kate Kelly, left, walks with supporters to the Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Kate Kelly, left, walks with supporters to the Church Office Building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City.Rick Bowmer / AP

The founder of a Mormon women's group who was accused of undermining church teachings was excommunicated Monday by an all-male panel of judges who said she can only return if she abandons her cause.

Kate Kelly told NBC News that she burst into tears as she read the email from her former bishop informing her of the punishment for her gender-equality activism.

"I couldn’t really read all the words because I was crying and sobbing, but my eyes focused on, 'We have chosen to excommunicate you.' I guess I'm a delusional optimist because to the end I thought they would do the right thing."

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Kelly is a lawyer and a co-founder of Ordain Women, an organization that wants equal standing for women in Mormon church, which reserves its top leadership positions for men and does not permit female lay clergy.

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The bishop informed her that the excommunication — one of the highest-profile cases in the church in years — would last for at least a year and be lifted only if she showed "true repentance" and gave up her activism.

“In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood," the email said.

"You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.”

Kelly, who chose not to appear at the disciplinary hearing, said that while it was a "tragic day," she would not be silenced.

"It's not that I won't abandon my cause. I can't. The church that has excommunicated me has taught me to live with integrity," she said. "They're asking me to go to church every Sunday and pretend I don't think there are problems with gender equality."

Kelly said she would still consider herself a follower of the faith.

"Mormonism doesn't wash off," she said. "But it will seriously negatively impact my worship, my connection to the community, my participation in rituals.

"I think it's a hideously painful blow to any woman has ever looked around her and recognized the plain and simple truth that men and women are not equal in our church."

She said she plans to appeal, but is not hopeful because the church leader who would consider her case is the same person who initiated the excommunication process against her.

There was no immediate comment from the Mormon church, which said the email contained the reasoning behind the excommunication.

"The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood," it said.

"The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the Church."

Supporters and opponents of Kelly's crusade weighed in on Twitter: