The diocese in question is in Massachusetts.
The Worcester Diocese has stopped accepting new men into its permanent diaconate program – at least temporarily – Deacon Anthony R. Surozenski, director of the Office of Diaconate, said this week.
This will allow time to assess whether more deacons will be needed and whether assignments and funding will be available for them, he said.
It also allows time for studying how to better apply national Church norms to deacons’ ministry and finding ways deacons could help meet needs that they are not currently addressing, such as hospice and truck stop ministries, he said. The Diaconate Advisory Board will study how to improve the diaconate, Deacon Surozenski said.
Currently 32 men are at different stages in the five-year preparation program; they are to continue formation and be ordained as scheduled this year and through 2015, Deacon Surozenski said. No others were ready to begin the program.
Deacon Surozenski said he suggested to Bishop McManus that they needed to look at the diaconate. Bishop McManus, on a Holy Land pilgrimage, was not here to comment.
“We don’t know what the diocese is going to look like and what the needs are going to be,” Deacon Surozenski said, explaining the decision to halt the program. “Parishes are merging, some parishes are closing, new parishes may be evolving. We have to take a look at the big picture for ministry service for deacons.
“If all goes well, there should be 135 active priests by the year 2015 and there should be 98 deacons.” There might be an additional 17 deacons officially retired but still serving.
A deacon and a priest working with the diaconate nationally put the Worcester Diocese’s situation in context.
The United States has 17,165 permanent deacons, more than 50 percent of all the permanent deacons in the world, said Deacon Gerald W. DuPont, president of the National Association of Diaconate Directors.
He said he did not know of any dioceses permanently stopping their diaconate program.
“On the whole, the diaconate in most dioceses continues to grow; it’s not being pulled back,” he said. But he said his impression is that roughly 10 percent of the dioceses in the United States are taking or have taken a “breather,” such as when the number of deacons approaches the number of priests or there are financial difficulties.