By Father Pat Travers
Ever since Pope Francis announced on May 19, 2020, that Bishop Andrew Bellisario of Juneau would become the archbishop of a new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, many of us have had questions as to what this means and how it will come about. Especially now, while we are transitioning to our new Church structure, I thought it might be helpful to respond to some of these questions to the extent that is possible.
Is the Diocese of Juneau being absorbed by the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and will Anchorage now “outrank” Juneau in the new organization?
No, what Pope Francis has decided is that the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the Diocese of Juneau will be merged to form an entirely new “particular Church” for Southern Alaska, the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau. Both of the former dioceses will go out of existence when the new archdiocese is formed, and Anchorage and Juneau will be co-equal “see cities” of the new local Church
How long will it take for the new archdiocese to be established?
As this is being written, we still do not know exactly. While Pope Francis has announced the formation of the new archdiocese and the appointment of Bishop Andrew as its archbishop, this cannot take effect until the Holy Father has issued the formal decree or “bull” establishing the new particular Church and until Bishop Andrew is installed as archbishop. The Holy See has not yet announced the dates for these events.
What is the status of the old dioceses and of Bishop Andrew before the establishment of the new archdiocese?
Until the new archdiocese is established and the new archbishop installed, the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the Diocese of Juneau will continue to exist as separate dioceses. Bishop Andrew will continue to be Apostolic Administrator of Anchorage, as he has been for almost a year. He will also continue to be the bishop of Juneau, with the same powers he had before. Most of the ministers holding offices in the existing dioceses will continue to do so during the interim.
Where will the archbishop live, and where will the offices or “chancery” of the new archdiocese be located?
Bishop Andrew has announced that, as archbishop, he will continue to maintain his official residence in Juneau, but will also reside in Anchorage. The new archdiocese’s main chancery will be in Anchorage, although there will continue to be offices in Juneau for the immediate future. In establishing the new chancery, the archbishop will carefully consider the needs of the people and the gifts and personal situations of the existing chanceries’ ministers and employees
Where will the Cathedral be located, and might there be more than one?
This is a matter that Pope Francis will decide in the decree establishing the new archdiocese.
How will the ministry of the priests of the former dioceses be affected by the establishment of the new archdiocese?
With the establishment of the new particular Church of Anchorage-Juneau, the priests who have been ministering in the existing dioceses will automatically become members of a single “presbyterate” for the new archdiocese. The diocesan priests will automatically be “incardinated” in–that is, permanent members of–the new archdiocese, and their prior affiliations with the former dioceses will end. As a member of a single new presbyterate, it will be possible for any diocesan priest to be assigned anywhere in Southern Alaska, regardless of his previous affiliation with one or the other of the former dioceses. As in the past, the assignments of priests who are members of religious or apostolic communities will continue to be by agreement between the archbishop and their respective superiors.
Will the establishment of the new archdiocese have any immediate effect on ministry at the parish level?
No, until the archbishop takes positive steps to make changes, the assignments of pastors, other priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers will continue under the new archdiocese. Policy and personnel changes affecting the parishes will eventually be made as the new archdiocese develops, but this will happen over time and after consultation with those who would be affected by those changes.
Will the existing diocesan newspapers and websites be combined? What about the “logos” and symbols of the existing dioceses?
The existing diocesan newspapers and websites will almost certainly be discontinued and new ones established for the new archdiocese. The same will be true of the coats of arms, seals, “logos,” stationery, and other symbols of the existing dioceses. In order to emphasize that a new particular Church of Southern Alaska has come into being, these kinds of changes are very necessary. At the same time, this does not mean that the rich heritage that the new archdiocese will inherit from our existing dioceses will be ignored or disregarded. Indeed, it will be more important than ever to reacquaint ourselves with the lives and ministries of the Alaskan Catholics who have gone before us in the many diverse communities that will now become part of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau.