What an exciting and gracious feeling I had when my plane made its approach into the Juneau airport last month. Through partial clouds and sun appeared towering mountains, solitary islands, and inviting coves. It was familiar and, at the same time, unique. This familiar and unique character also deeply includes a shared faith amongst our parishes and faith communities within our new Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau! I felt a sense of belonging and connection with the fellow Catholics I met and the surroundings in which they live, work and worship.
As with all offices and ministries of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, the Office of Safe Environment has been working on the practical aspects of unifying the two former dioceses of Juneau and Anchorage into one.
Since September of last year, Robbie Izzard and Deacon Mike Monagle, from the chancery office in Juneau, and I have been discussing and working together to develop a plan to unify all things Safe Environment. Over the past ten months, we have shared what each former diocese had developed in the past to be the most effective approaches to providing a Safe Environment Ministry. This included prevention efforts against all forms of abuse toward vulnerable populations and offered opportunities for healing for anyone who has been harmed, specifically from someone representing the Church.
The physical Office of Safe Environment is in the chancery in Anchorage, but support for parishes throughout the archdiocese continues from both Juneau and Anchorage. Importantly, Robbie Izzard and I will continue offering care and advocacy for victims/survivors of abuse throughout the archdiocese in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Even the review board of professionals from different disciplines knowledgeable and experienced in areas related to policy, procedures and victim/survivor care has been unified from both former dioceses. The review board is an advisory board to Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M. on policies, procedures and Safe Environment issues.
We have been implementing one training program for all parishes, one training program for all clerics, employees and volunteers, and one company to complete all background checks for those who work with minors and vulnerable adults. In addition, we have one pastoral policy and will continue to improve on its development for best practices.
Having served as the director for the Office of Safe Environment for the former Archdiocese of Anchorage, with the gift of Zoom technology, I have now had the great privilege to meet with parish staff, priests and deacons from the former Diocese of Juneau to learn how the Office of Safe Environment can ensure their needs are met, and they have the support and resources available for each of their communities. During this trip, I was also able to see the gift that the Shrine of St. Therese has to offer all of us. Connecting the dedicated and faithful ministers that I have worked with for many years and sharing what I learn from parish staff and volunteers of our parishes in Southeast is essential in our all feeling a sense of belonging and joy in what the church has created in this new archdiocese.
As unifying two dioceses requires much coordination and effort, I look forward to ongoing learning, and listening to the needs of communities new to me. I also look forward to bringing both former dioceses together working as one for the good of our parishes, people, communities and the larger Church. I hope that the Catholic faith communities within the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau will begin to feel that sense of belonging to one another and the joy of being unified in our shared faith and calling to care for the most vulnerable in our communities.