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Rising Number of Aging Permanent Deacons Poses Challenge for Bishops

U.S. Catholic bishops buoyed by the statistics express concern over the number of deacons close to retirement.


| Posted 8/7/13 at 8:22 AM


WASHINGTON — The number of permanent deacons in the United States continues to rise, even as the number of deacons approaching retirement also increases, reports a new study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The statistics are encouraging,” said Archbishop Robert Carlson, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations, which commissioned the report, “A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011-2012.”

“But they also alert us to the fact many of the deacons will soon reach retirement age,” the St. Louis archbishop added. “This suggests a need for bishops to recruit a greater number of men to join the ranks of the permanent diaconate.”

The report was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University and surveyed 193 out of 195 dioceses and eparchies in the United States. The organization received responses from 145 of the dioceses and eparchies.

The two organizations not surveyed — the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and the eparchy of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago — have no permanent deacons.

This is the seventh survey CARA has conducted since the Second Vatican Council, which re-established the permanent diaconate as an order of ministry within the Church.

The study’s responses revealed more than 12,756 permanent deacons serving within dioceses and archdioceses in the Latin rite and 38 deacons in eparchies in the United States. Expanding these figures to the dioceses and eparchies that did not answer the survey, CARA estimates that there are more than 18,000 deacons in the country.

CARA estimates that currently only 3,000 deacons are retired, leaving 80% of U.S. deacons in active service.

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, has the greatest concentration of permanent deacons, with 482 Catholics per deacon, and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has the largest number of deacons (414) within a particular diocese.

The study showed that 88% of responding archdioceses have a minimum age for deacons averaging to 33 years old.

However, an overwhelming majority (94%) of the deacons currently serving the Church are over 50 years old, approaching the retirement ages set by over half of reporting dioceses. More than 40% of deacons are in their 60s, and 25% are over the age of 70. Currently, 53% of dioceses require permanent deacons to retire after a certain age, with 13% of those dioceses requiring deacons to retire at age 70 and 80% after the age of 75.

Nearly 95% of permanent deacons within the United States are currently married, the study said, noting that only 2% of permanent deacons have never been married, and 4% have been widowed.

Slightly more than 20% of deacons “receive some form of financial compensation for their service.” A great number of deacons — compensated or not — “hold jobs outside of the ministry, in such areas as sales, law or other work,” the USCCB said in a statement.

Education is also a significant trait many deacons share. Among permanent deacons in the United States, 60% have a college degree and 10% have “a graduate degree in a field related to religion or ministry,” the study said. In addition, 85% of dioceses require continuing formation for ordained deacons, and 94% of dioceses also require permanent deacons to participate in a yearly retreat.