U.S. permanent deacons: Ethnic mix (and age) increases

Deacon Long Nguyen of St. Catherine Laboure, Torrance, prays with well-wishers following his Ordination Mass in June 2013 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. — Credit: VICTOR ALEMAN

The majority of permanent deacons in the United States reflect a greater ethnic mix than U.S. priests in general but less of a mix than the general Catholic population, according to the annual USCCB survey.

The survey also found that a majority of deacons are married Caucasians, and the number at retirement age is on the increase. The survey — “A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops 2013-2014” — was conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

“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 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.”

Major findings from arch/dioceses that responded to the survey note the following:

—An estimated 18,725 permanent deacons serve in the U.S., with an estimated 15,191 (about 82 percent) active in ministry.

—Chicago, with 745 permanent deacons, has the most, followed by Galveston-Houston (418), Los Angeles (407) and Philadelphia (336).

—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 (more than 26,500 Catholics per deacon), Fresno and San Jose (each more than 16,000), and San Bernardino (more than 14,000).

—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.

 

Age

—Ninety-four percent of active deacons are at least 50. About 24 percent are in their 50s, 42 percent are in their 60s, and 28 percent are 70 or older.

—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 ten 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. In Los Angeles, the minimum age is 30.

—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.

 

Ethnicity

—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.

 

Education/Formation

—Six in ten active deacons (60 percent) have at least a college degree. More than one tenth (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 ten (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.

—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.

 

Compensation

—About one in six (16 percent) active permanent deacons are 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 ten (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 ten 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) is financially compensated for ministry in hospitals or in prisons. One in ten is financially compensated for the pastoral care of one or more parishes under Canon 517.2, either full-time or part-time.

 

To view the entire report, visit www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/diaconate/.


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