Study of permanent diaconate finds median age increasing
(Iobserve file photos/Rebecca Drake)
WASHINGTON – The 2013-2014 annual survey of permanent deacons in the United States finds the majority are married Caucasians, and the number at retirement age is on the increase.
The survey also finds that U.S. permanent deacons reflect a greater ethnic mix than U.S. priests in general but less of a mix than the general Catholic population.
The findings are outlined in “A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2013-2014.” The study was conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The entire report can be found at www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/diaconate/.
“Ever since their inception into the modern church in the 1960s, permanent deacons have served generously in our parishes, institutions and communities and remain special gifts to the church,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “As their median age increases, we must take necessary steps to invite others to hear the Lord’s call to serve as deacons.”
The Diocese of Springfield, Mass., however, has already recorded a rise in younger candidates for the permanent diaconate, according to Deacon Leo Coughlin, director of the diocese’s Diaconate Formation Program.
“I believe we are getting there in Springfield,” he said. “The next two classes (of diaconate candidates) are much younger than our past classes. In fact, in 2015 we will ordain Andy Nowicki, from St. Cecilia (Parish), who will just meet the minimum age of 35.”
Major findings from arch/dioceses that responded to the survey note the following:
Chicago, with 745 permanent deacons, has the most permanent deacons, followed by Galveston-Houston (418), Los Angeles (407) and Philadelphia (336). Adjusting for Catholic population size, Latin rite dioceses with the lowest ratio of Catholics per permanent deacon include Fairbanks, Ala. (664 Catholics to every deacon), Lexington, Ky. (722 Catholics per deacon), Amarillo, Texas (748 Catholics per deacon), and Jefferson City, Mo. (787 Catholics per deacon).
The 133 Latin Rite responding arch/dioceses (out of 178 arch/dioceses) report a total of 13,866 permanent deacons. The two arch/eparchies (out of 17 arch/eparchies) that responded report 48 permanent deacons.
It is estimated that there are as many as 18,725 permanent deacons in the United States today. An estimated 15,191 deacons, or about 82 percent, are active in ministry.
The Los Angeles Archdiocese has more than 10,000 Catholics per deacon. Other arch/dioceses with high numbers of Catholics per deacon include El Paso, with more than 26,500 Catholics per deacon, Fresno and San Jose in California, with more than 16,000 Catholics per deacon, and San Bernardino with more than 14,000.
On average, responding arch/dioceses and arch/eparchies report 84 deacons in active ministry. The inactive include 15 percent who are retired, one percent suspended from active ministry, one percent on a leave of absence, and two percent inactive for other reasons.
Ninety-three percent of active deacons are currently married. Four percent are widowers, and two percent have never been married. Less than one percent are divorced or remarried.
Ninety-four percent of active deacons are at least 50. About a quarter (24 percent) are in their 50s, four in 10 (42 percent) are in their 60s, and more than a quarter (28 percent) are 70 or older. Seven in ten active permanent deacons (70 percent) are at least 60.
According to Canon Law and the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, the minimum age for ordination to the permanent diaconate is 35. Nine in 10 arch/dioceses (91 percent) have a minimum age requirement for acceptance into the diaconate formation program. The minimum age ranges from 29 to 45, with a median age of 32.
Dioceses have mandatory ages of retirement from active ministry for deacons. Twelve percent require retirement at age 70; 85 percent at 75, and three percent at another age.
Seventy-eight percent of active deacons are non-Hispanic whites. Sixteen percent are Hispanic or Latino. Three percent are African American and 3 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander. One percent of active deacons are Native Americans or members of other racial/ethnic groups.
Active permanent deacons are more diverse racially and ethnically than U.S. priests, although not as diverse as the U.S. Catholic population. According to a national random survey of priests conducted by CARA in 2009, 92 percent of U.S. priests are non-Hispanic whites, 3 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 2 percent are African American or black, and 3 percent are Asian American.
Six in 10 active deacons (60 percent) have at least a college degree. More than one 10th (11 percent) have a graduate degree in a field related to religion or ministry.
Eighty-three percent of responding arch/dioceses require post-ordination formation of deacons, with a median of 20 hours of post-ordination formation annually.
Nearly three in 10 (28 percent) active deacons have a graduate degree. Almost twice as many have a graduate degree in a field not related to the diaconate (17 percent) as have one in a religious field such as religious studies, theology, Canon Law, etc., (11 percent).
One third (32 percent) of active permanent deacons have a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education. About one in five (18 percent) has some college education or an associate’s degree as their highest level of education. One fifth (20 percent) have a high school degree or GED. Very few active deacons (1 percent) have less than a high school degree.
During the 2013 calendar year, responding arch/dioceses reported 355 deacons retired from active ministry and 237 died. In 2013, 19 deacons requested laicization.
Twelve permanent deacons were reported to have left the diaconate to prepare for the priesthood, slightly more than what was reported in 2012 and 2011.
About one in six (16 percent) active permanent deacons is financially compensated for ministry. Deacons compensated for another parish ministerial position (in addition to their diaconal responsibilities) make up the largest proportion among those compensated for their ministry.
Among deacons compensated for full-time ministry, three in 10 (30 percent) are paid for a full-time ministerial position in a parish, such as director of religious education (DRE) and youth minister.
Fewer than one in 10 deacons in a compensated ministry (8 percent) serve the diocese in a ministerial position (e.g., diocesan DRE, diocesan youth minister) and the same proportion serve in a non-ministerial position, working, for example, in administration, business, finance.
Almost one in four deacons (23 percent) are financially compensated for ministry in hospitals or in prisons. One in 10 (10 percent) is financially compensated for the pastoral care of one or more parishes under Canon 517.2, either full-time or part-time.