VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has united the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall with the Archdiocese of Ottawa “in the person of the bishop,” Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, indicating the situation may change in the future.

A permanent change would have been accomplished by merging the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall with the Archdiocese of Ottawa.

Instead, the Vatican announced April 27 that the two would be joined under Prendergast, “archbishop of Ottawa (and) also bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall.” The formula indicates that diocesan structures could continue to operate independently for the time being.

The last bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall, Bishop Marcel Damphousse, was named bishop of Sault Sainte Marie in November 2015. The following January, Francis named Prendergast as apostolic administrator of the diocese.

In a letter posted on the diocesan website in 2017, Prendergast said his appointment came with “the mandate of making a recommendation as to whether the diocese should be merged with a neighboring diocese, the most likely being the Archdiocese of Ottawa.”

He said he had spent a year visiting “as many of the parishes as possible” and attending “as many diocesan functions as possible.” In the spring of 2017, he held five “town hall” meetings around the diocese and solicited written comments on the best way to proceed.

“Demographic changes, the decline in the numbers of clergy and in religious practice among us and the needs of a bilingual church (French and English) — all these factors have led us to the point of examining our future now,” the archbishop wrote.

“There are many factors to be considered and weighed when making a decision that will be impactful on so many,” he wrote. “One of those factors is certainly the voice of the faithful, without which a good decision cannot be made.”

The Alexandria-Cornwall diocesan website also included “facts about the diocese,” including that “there are approximately 64,000 Catholics in the diocese. The number of Catholics who attend church regularly is about 6,200.”

“The diocese has 25 parishes and one mission,” it said. “Ten of the parishes plus the mission do not have a resident priest.” The diocese also has 15 permanent deacons, two men studying for the diaconate and four seminarians.