More questions and answers about the transition to the new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau

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Since the last article in June presenting questions and answers about the transition to our new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, announced by Pope Francis on May 29, 2020, some new information and questions have appeared that seemed to call for another article on this subject. As you will see, some aspects of this transition have become more definite, while others continue to be less certain.

When will the new archdiocese come into existence and begin its activities?

We now know that the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau will begin to function as a new “particular Church” for all of Southern Alaska on Thursday, September 17, 2020. At 2:00 pm on that date, a Mass will be celebrated at the Co-Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Anchorage, where three special events will occur.

The first will be the inauguration of the new archdiocese as Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio or Ambassador of the Holy See to the United States, reads and presents the “bull” or decree of Pope Francis establishing the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau. The term “bull” refers to the bulla or metal seal that is attached to the document.

The second event at this special Mass will be the installation of Bishop Andrew E. Bellisario, C.M., as the first Archbishop of Anchorage-Juneau. Another bull, containing the “apostolic mandate” by which Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Bellisario to this new office, will then be read by Archbishop Pierre and presented to those in attendance. When Bishop Bellisario takes his seat in the cathedra or archbishop’s chair in the Co-Cathedral, he will thereby become the Archbishop of Anchorage-Juneau, with full authority to govern the new archdiocese.

The third event will be the imposition of the pallium on Archbishop Bellisario by Archbishop Pierre, in the name of Pope Francis. The pallium is a circular strip of white cloth worn on his shoulders by a metropolitan archbishop and by the Pope. A “metropolitan” archbishop is one who, like Archbishop Bellisario, will have oversight over all the dioceses of a “province”– for us, the Province of Anchorage-Juneau covering the entire State of Alaska and the new Archdiocese and the Diocese of Fairbanks. Each pallium is made in Rome from the wool of lambs that are blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. The Pope blesses the palliums on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul and then they are kept at the tomb of Saint Peter until being sent to a new metropolitan archbishop.

The pallium is a sign of the unity of the archbishop with the Holy See, and his sharing in the authority of the Pope.

After these three events, the Mass will proceed normally. There is some uncertainty about how many persons will be physically present at the Mass in the Co-Cathedral because of State and local restrictions responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and our archdiocesan policies. The entire liturgy will, however, be livestreamed to the websites of the Archdiocese of Anchorage and the Diocese of Juneau, so that as many as possible will be able to participate from a distance. Even the two bulls will be presented with close-up shots that will allow those viewing from afar to inspect them.

What new offices and councils will be established for the new archdiocese and how will appointments to them be made?

As soon as the new archdiocese is established, it will be necessary for the archbishop to appoint persons to certain required offices and advisory councils. He will appoint a priest to be the “vicar general” of the new archdiocese, to help the archbishop in his exercise of executive authority over the Catholic Church of Southern Alaska. He will also appoint a priest holding a degree in canon law to serve as the “judicial vicar” or chief judge of the Metropolitan Tribunal. This archdiocesan court will automatically come into being with the new archdiocese.

For the most part, the Tribunal considers cases to determine the validity under Church law and doctrine of marriages that have ended in divorce. The archbishop will also appoint a “chancellor” who will oversee the records and administrative functions of the “chancery” or central offices of the archdiocese, developing policies and procedures for personnel, financial matters, safe environment, and other important subjects. These new policies and procedures will probably incorporate some of those adopted by the previous archdiocese and diocese, but the opportunity may also be taken to introduce needed improvements.

There are also some required councils that the archbishop will establish for the new archdiocese, in order to assist and advise him on a wide range of issues. One of these will be the Presbyteral Council, a group of priests that will regularly discuss matters of importance to the people of the archdiocese. From the Presbyteral Council, certain members will be selected by the archbishop to form a College of Consultors, whom the archbishop must consult on certain important matters. The College of Consultors would also have a special responsibility to govern the archdiocese if the archbishop’s office became vacant. The archbishop will also appoint a Finance Council for the new archdiocese, which will advise him on a wide range of matters having to do with the Church’s material resources, including the establishment of the archdiocesan budget. He will also appoint a Review Board for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults to advise him on the prevention of sexual abuse and help investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in the ministries of the archdiocese. Each of these groups will probably include some members of the equivalent councils and boards of the former dioceses that they will replace.

What will the crest or coat of arms of the new archdiocese look like?

Archbishop-designate Bellisario has chosen the following design for the crest or coat of arms of the new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau.

The new design includes elements from the crests of the previous dioceses. The horizontal line in the middle represents the horizon separating the earth from the heavens, and the wavy lines at the bottom, taken from the Juneau crest, represent the water under the dome of the sky. All of these represent the beauty of creation in the archdiocese, first inhabited by the Native peoples of Alaska. The elements above the horizon line are also taken from the Juneau crest. The constellation of the Great Bear with the North Star recalls the Alaska flag and represents the State of Alaska. The North Star, which has guided and inspired Alaskans from the earliest days, also represents the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Star of the Sea.” The crescent moon represents the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the first and oldest Catholic Cathedral in Alaska, located in the Capital City of Juneau. The triple-pronged anchor, taken from the crest of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, represents the virtue of hope, the Holy Trinity, and the Municipality of Anchorage, the largest in Alaska.

I hope this answers some of the questions you might have about the transition taking place in the Catholic Church of Southern Alaska. Let us all pray that, as we come together as God’s people in this vast region of ours, we might grow in the love and service of God and of one another.


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