Catholic Church announces Alaska’s next Archbishop

Archbishop-elect Paul Etienne addresses the public at the Archdiocese of Anchorage on Oct. 4, 2016. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)
Archbishop-elect Paul Etienne addresses the public at the Archdiocese of Anchorage on Oct. 4, 2016. (Photo by Josh Edge/APRN)

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have named Alaska’s next Archbishop.

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Archbishop-elect Paul Etienne was introduced to the community Tuesday by outgoing-Archbishop Roger Schweitz at the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

“This is a very, very special day for me personally since it’s been 15 months since I sent in my resignation to our Holy Father, and he responded – I thought maybe he lost the letter,” Schwietz said.

Schweitz has been at the head of the Archdiocese of Anchorage since 2001 and submitted his resignation last year when he turned 75-years-old, as required by the church.

Upon receiving the news that he was selected to lead the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Archbishop-elect Paul Etienne – who is 57 – says it took him by surprise.

“Truthfully, I did not say yes immediately, but asked for a day top digest and discern what my best response might be to this unexpected turn in my life in the church,” Etienne said.

Etienne has spent the last 8 years serving as the bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming; and the appointment and prospective move to Alaska would take him even further from his family in Indiana.

But, Etienne says after a night of contemplation and prayer, he found his answer.

“I’ve been a priest 24, 24 and a half years now and I promised the Lord in those ordination promises that I would follow wherever he led,” he said. “So, I’m here because I followed the Lord here.”

Despite the initial apprehension, Etienne says he is looking forward to getting to know the land and people that make up his new home.

And, Etienne says he’s a longtime supporter of “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which was established in the wake of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy — which included several Alaska communities.

“I’m very committed to doing everything that not only we are required to do, but what we as a church desire to do,” Etienne said. “To create a safe environment for our young people and our vulnerable adults, and to do everything necessary when and if there are abuses to take the appropriate steps to make sure that we respond accordingly.”

Etienne says he was the first priest from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to serve on the committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, and he’s currently serving his second term on the bishops committee.

The Archdiocese of Anchorage serves more than 11,000 families and maintains parishes and missions from Anchorage and Eagle River, to Valdez and Cordova, to Dillingham and Dutch Harbor, and many in between.