WASHINGTON, DC – In the Catholic Church, permanent deacons “have a unique responsibility to bring Christ to every corner of society,” said the chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
They minister “in imitation of the servant Christ and moved by the spirit of charity,” said Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, New Jersey.
He remarked on the unique role of deacons in the Catholic Church in a statement released June 2 with the results of an annual survey that provides a portrait of the permanent diaconate in the United States.
“By virtue of their ordination, deacons bear witness to Christ in their workplace, within their families and among members of their community, especially the poor,” Bishop Checchio said. “The church is grateful to all permanent deacons who extend the mercy and healing of Christ to all in need.”
Conducted for the USCCB by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University since 2005, the study provides a detailed overview of the state of the permanent diaconate in the United States.
Results include the percentage of active versus non-active deacons; the archdioceses/dioceses and eparchies with the greatest number of permanent deacons; socio-cultural demography; and ministerial involvement.
With contact information provided by the National Association of Diaconate Directors and CARA’s Catholic Ministry Training Database, CARA contacted the 183 dioceses and eparchies in the United States that have an active permanent diaconate office and program of training.
Of this total, 141 responded to the survey for an overall response rate of 77%.
Here are some of the key findings of the report:
— The archdioceses/dioceses with the most permanent deacons include Chicago, 804; Los Angeles, 498; and Joliet, Illinois, 497. Controlling for Catholic population size, the Latin Rite dioceses with the lowest ratio of Catholics per permanent deacon include Lexington, Kentucky, 477 Catholics per deacon; Amarillo, TX, 547; Rapid City, SD, 678; Pueblo, Colorado, 681; and Anchorage, Alaska, 699.
— The 138 archdioceses/Latin Rite dioceses that answered this question report a total of 16,765 permanent, active and non-active deacons. The three eparchies that responded report a total of 36 permanent deacons. “Extrapolating to include archdioceses/dioceses and archeparchies/eparchies that did not respond to the survey,” the report states, “it can be estimated that there were as many as 20,888 permanent deacons in the United States in 2021-2022″.
— Archdioceses/Latin Rite dioceses reported having 11,746 permanent deacons active in ministry. The three eparchies reported 31 active permanent deacons. “Extrapolating to include arches/dioceses and arches/eparchies that did not respond to the survey,” the report states, “it can be estimated that there are 14,586 deacons active in ministry in the United States in 2021-2022, or approximately 70% of all permanent deacons.
— In the calendar year 2021, 458 new permanent deacons were ordained in the archdiocese/dioceses that responded to the survey. At the same time, 512 deacons retired from active ministry and another 393 deacons died. “As is the case with priests in the United States, there are not enough newly ordained permanent deacons to compensate for the number of those who retire from active ministry and die each year,” the report said.
— Nearly all active permanent deacons — 95% — are at least 50 years old. About a fifth, or 20%, are in their 50s; two-fifths, 41%, are in their 60s; and about another two-fifths, 36%, are 70 or older.
— Nine out of 10 permanent active deacons, or 93%, are currently married; 4% are widowed; and 2% have never been married.
— Seven out of 10 permanent active deacons, or 72 percent, are non-Hispanic whites. One in five permanent active deacons, 21%, is Hispanic or Latino; 3% are Asian or Pacific Islander; and 2 percent are African American.
— Among the permanent deacons financially compensated for their ministry, one out of five (19%) is responsible for the pastoral care of one or more parishes; one in four (25 percent) works in other parish ministry positions, such as religious education director, youth minister; and one in seven (15 percent) work in non-ministerial parochial positions, such as administration, business, finance.
— Seven in 10 (67%) permanent active deacons have at least a university degree. One in seven (14%) have a graduate degree in a field related to religion or ministry.
— Nearly all dioceses and eparchies (98%) require an annual retreat for deacons. On average, three out of four deacons (75%) participate in the retreat. Four out of five responding archdioceses/dioceses (83%) offer couples retreats for deacons and their spouses. Nine out of 10 archdioceses/dioceses (86%) hold annual gatherings of deacons in addition to or apart from a retreat.
— Nine out of 10 archdioceses/dioceses (94%) have a minimum age requirement to be accepted into the diaconate formation program — with the minimum age ranging from 28 to 60, with a median of 33.