Seattle Archbishop Sartain Steps Down for Medical Reasons

Archbishop Paul Etienne will succeed Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, whose resignation was accepted Sept. 3 by Pope Francis.

Outgoing Seattle Archbishop Sartain (l) and new Archbishop Etienne.
Outgoing Seattle Archbishop Sartain (l) and new Archbishop Etienne. (photo: CNA file photo)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis Tuesday accepted the resignation of Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who will be succeeded by Archbishop Paul Etienne, coadjutor of the archdiocese since June.

A coadjutor bishop is appointed to assist in the administration of a diocese and succeeds the bishop upon his retirement or death. Coadjutors are often appointed when a bishop is in ill health; Archbishop Sartain, 67, has had serious back issues and submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Francis in September 2018.

Archbishop Etienne, 60, will now take over leadership of the Archdiocese of Seattle, which also has two auxiliaries, Bishops Eusebio Elizondo and Daniel Mueggenborg.

Archbishop Sartain has been archbishop of Seattle since 2010. He had previously served as bishop of Joliet, Illinois, and before that, from 2000 to 2006, was bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Archbishop Sartain studied English before entering seminary. He received a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome in 1977 and after his priestly ordination in 1978, returned to Rome for further studies at the Pontifical University of St. Anselmo.

The Archdiocese of Seattle has 173 parishes, missions, and pastoral centers and serves more than 579,500 Catholics.

Archbishop Etienne served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from 1992 until 2009, when he was appointed Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In 2016, Pope Francis named him to head the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

At the time of his appointment as coadjutor of Seattle April 29, 2019, Etienne wrote in a blog post that he has known Archbishop Sartain for many years, and has nothing but “admiration and esteem” for him.

The archdiocese has been in the spotlight recently after an AP story was published in August profiling a Seattle man who committed suicide. Photos in the article showed Jesuit Father Quentin Dupont, as first Communicants, blessing Robert Fuller, a parishioner of St. Therese Church, before he ended his own life May 10.

Father Dupont told America magazine Aug. 30 he was unaware of the man’s intentions, and that if he had known the man was planning to commit suicide, he would have acted differently.

Father Dupont also denied being the Jesuit priest referenced in a Facebook post, in which Fuller claimed to have received the approbation of a Jesuit priest for his planned suicide.

Neither the Archdiocese of Seattle nor the West Province of the Society of Jesus have indicated what priest Fuller might have been referencing, or if the matter is under investigation, nor has the archdiocese addressed questions related to the parish choir’s attendance and performance at the party Fuller hosted leading up to his suicide.

The archdiocese has addressed Fuller’s funeral, which he scheduled with the parish prior to his suicide.

In its Aug. 28 statement, the archdiocese said that when Fuller discussed his desire for a funeral with his pastor, Father Maurice Mamba, the priest discussed the gift of life and tried to convince him to change his mind. “He made it clear that neither he nor the parish could support his plan to take his own life.”

Archbishop Etienne, an outdoorsman, grew up as one of six children. He has two brothers who are priests and a sister who is a religious sister.

He graduated from the University of St. Thomas/St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a degree in business administration before studying at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

After serving as an associate pastor and assistant vocations director in Indianapolis for a period, he returned to Rome to receive his licentiate in spiritual theology.

In the U.S., he later served as vocations director in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, vice-rector of the Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary in Indianapolis, and as a parish priest.

He was appointed bishop of Cheyenne in 2009. He has served as a metropolitan, the archbishop of Anchorage, since November 2016.