ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Archdiocese of Anchorage and the Diocese of Juneau have merged to form a restructured Catholic Church administration in Alaska, officials said.
Pope Francis merged the organizations and appointed Juneau Bishop Andrew Bellisario as the new archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, The Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.
The two dioceses were joined previously, but split in 1966 because of a population shift in Alaska, Bellisario said.
"We have something that is new," Bellisario said. "It is not one diocese absorbing another, but it is two coming together and the people of God being able to create a new reality."
The Juneau diocese has been the smallest in the country for a number of years, with similar numbers of parishioners in Anchorage and Fairbanks. There are about 50 parishes in Alaska, Bellisario said.
"I think finally it just got to the point where we're smaller, technology has gotten better, we can probably economize in certain ways," he said.
Bellisario served as Juneau bishop since 2017 and as Anchorage's apostolic administrator since summer 2019. He will likely continue to reside in Juneau but also work and have accommodations in Anchorage.
There are more than 30,000 Catholics in the area overseen by the new archdiocese, the church said.
There will be no direct impact on the parishes or churchgoers, although there may be potential for more connection throughout the state, Bellisario said.
Anchorage's former archbishop, Paul Etienne, became the Seattle coadjutor archbishop in 2019 before being elevated to Archbishop of Seattle in September.
The Anchorage archbishop post has been vacant since Etienne's departure, with Bellisario overseeing operations.
Bellisario's official installation as archbishop was not immediately scheduled because of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.