Suspended: diocese stops accepting new candidates for diaconate

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.

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37 responses to “Suspended: diocese stops accepting new candidates for diaconate”

  1. Archdiocese of Philadelphia went through a 1 year suspension for much the same reasons. It has now resumed the application acceptance process after revamping the formation program.

  2. “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.”

    I find this to be a very strange approach. I should think that there should be at least two deacons to every priest in a diocese…

  3. Most interested turn of events. In the dioceses that I know of where deacons are encouraged, welcomed and fully supported, their numbers are growing and they do awesome work. This is not to say that recruitment and formation programs ought not to be scrutinized and improved.

  4. “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.”


  5. If my memory serves me here, a number of dioceses “took breathers” when the new norms came out several years back. That was more to bring their own formation programs in line with both the National Directory and the norms out of the Vatican that proceeded the National Directory.

    Prior to that “breather,” one diocese in our area had new formation classes starting up every Fall and thus had three such classes going on simultaneously. That put a huge strain on the administrative and faculty support for the program itself. This specific diocese is now experimenting with a start-up of a new candidacy class every other year.

    Using the closing and merging of parishes as an excuse to slow down the diaconal formation application process hardly makes any sense. One “twinned” parish in our town (merged headcount over 5,500) has one priest/pastor and three active deacons. According to local staffing guidelines, that parish is in good shape. The deacons there are still telling me that they could use one — maybe even two — more deacons to balance out the pastoral work load.

  6. The Diocese of Joliet in Illinois is taking some time to review its diaconate formation program There are two current classes in formation, to be ordained in 2011 and 2013. Applications for the class of 2015 have been suspended. I was ordained in 2009 and feel we have a very strong formation program. However, we have a new formation director and are awaiting a new Bishop to be named, so now is probably a good time to review the program.

  7. Part of the trouble we deacons have is that some in responsible rolls in the Church do not have an evangelical or missionary attitude. I say this because a deacon on his secular job, or while involved in family activities (such as being a soccer Dad), etc. can reach and preach–evangelize– in ways and in situations that priests never can. The deacon can bring the world to the altar and the altar to the world . Instead of saying “Aha!” another way to bring Christ to the people, another way for the official Church to be present among the people, the bureaucratic mentality tends to see anything basically new and creative as ONE BIG PROBLEM.
    Few people will knock on the rectory door to get information they want, or religious quandrys explained, but I found that as a public high school history teacher–once students and teachers knew I was a deacon– the questions or querys never seemed to stop–over coffee in the teacher’s room or in the corridors between classes.
    One might also add that, since most deacons are married with families (while priests must be celibate), we undercut the argument that the Catholic Church needs a married CLERGY. We are the married CLERGY of the Catholic Church.

  8. Well said Deacon John. What you stated in your comments have pretty much matched my experience in the 10 years since I was ordained.

  9. Here is another question.

    Has anyone here run across a situation where new or renewed norms for priestly formation were issued or where there were financial difficulties and it caused a diocese to put all priestly vocations on hold?

    Just curious…

  10. I was about to ask the same question – considering the obvious problems with the formation of priests obvious to all who read the news, why not a breather for priests’ ordinations instead? I don’t think either breather is a good idea.

  11. Precisely, GXR.

    The Church needs to always treat her deacons as essential to her Catholic vocation. St. Ignatius of Antioch, the great 2nd century martyr, certainly saw deacons as integral to the life of the local Church – a deacon was the “alter Christus,” not the priest. The Bishop was the icon of God the Father, the presbyters were the icons of the “council of God/the Twelve Apostles” and the deacon was the icon of the Word made flesh. Without these, the Church’s full manifestation of her catholicity was impaired.

    The West should adopt the mindset of the East in general and the Coptics in particular in this regard – there should NEVER be a liturgy without a deacon. And no priests or bishops playing “dress up” as deacons and subdeacons, as we see sometimes in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin rite. The presbyter and the deacon are like the two hands of the bishop working and collaborating in the vineyard of the Lord.

    A priest with no deacon, to borrow a Zen koan, is like the sound of one hand clapping.

  12. Lets please keep in mind that there was an “or” between the comment attributed to Deacon Tony S. (“such as when the number of deacons approaches the number of priests or there are financial difficulties”).

    He was also – I think – giving examples as to why such things may be done – not that this is the reason in Worcester Diocese. (at least – that is how I read it).

    As an interning Deacon with Ordination set for just a couple months from now, I know that my current class had some struggles with placement.

    We will go wherever the Bishop sends us, and gladly, but my understanding is that no Deacon will be forced on a parish. The Pastor needs to make the request FOR a Deacon.

    The twinning or consolidation of parishes can add to the problem, if the pastor that remains is not open to a Deacon. Let’s be honest, there are parishes out there that are still not open to female altar servers – and by that comment I only infer that some Pastors, for their own reasons, are comfortable in shepherding in more of an “old school” approach. I say this with all charity, and if it works for them and their parishioners, then who am I (or we) to judge differently.

    I am glad I heard the call to the Permanent Diaconate. I am even more glad that there was a class to receive me when I heard it. I am saddened to think there are classes that may be stopped or set to an “every-other-year” – but we need to trust in the decisions being made, and pray, pray, pray…


  13. “How many deacons do we really need?”

    How many sick and shut-ins need to be ministered to?
    How many people in jails and prisons need the Church?
    How many homeless and poor need to be fed?
    How many souls in the secular world or the “market place” need to be exposed to Christ on a daily basis?
    How many marriages need to be blessed?
    How many children need to be baptized?
    How many people need to be buried??

  14. Reflect back on my post #5 within this stream.

    The working guidelines that I was referring to are rather informal but they go like this:

    –One priest/pastor on a full time basis when a parish hits 2,500 headcount.

    –One assistant pastor/ seminarian in training/ active permanently ordained deacon for every 1,000 headcount on top of that.

    –That 5,500 headcount parish i referred to has one priest pastor, no assistant priest/pastor; three “active” deacons. That seems to be right on the money but two of these three “active” deacons still have secular careers — so they are not available in the day hours. There are also three more “retired/ Senior-Status” deacons who live in the parish boundaries who can help if they are able but who have small and very specialized ministries.

    –This parish has an average of 18 weddings a year (at least one usually requiring a church annulment); average of 30+ funerals a year; average of 80 infant baptisms (40 of which are done in Spanish by one of the “retired deacons” who is Tex-Mex.

    –One of the deacons used to serve as the Campus Minister at the local community college but that ministry has had to go by the wayside. The same is true of the two deacons (now “retired”) who used to be on the chaplaincy staff at the local community hospital. There is simply not enough time in the day to cover everything.

    — and I could find even more if I really tried to find everything.

  15. Yet another clear sign that the vocation to the diaconate is not understood, accepted and promoted as an authentic and necessary vocation. I guess catechism is wrong and the Sacrament of Holy Orders has 2 levels and 3rd optional component.

    How many auxillary bishops do we need? A priest designated vicar can do just about as much to relieve the practical burdens and auxillary bishops really blur the theological and liturgical role of the bishop as father and sign of unity in the diocese.

    But I have to say that we (collective general we over the past 30+ years) have contributed to this misunderstanding of the diaconal vocation by the tendency to downplay our true canoncial clerical position and favor emphasizing what we have in common with laity. So its really little wonder that people are asking “how many” and “what works can they do” when, truth be told, we are still seen to be fundamentally dedicated super-laymen (IMHO)

  16. Speaking as a younger Catholic, I would be very happy to see deacons take their liturgical roles more seriously. Too often, the diaconate is all about bad liturgy and Baby Boomers.

    It’s important to note that when Paul VI re-instituted the permanent diaconate, two-thirds of the roles he specified related to assisting at the Mass and other liturgical functions.

    Yet to hear most of the Boomer deacons tell it, the whole point is to be some sort of corporal work of mercy patrol. It just isn’t so, at least for those of us who bother to read what the Church says, not what we think she must have meant.

    If a diocese were to use this cooling-off period to retro-instruct some of these aging deacons and bring the younglings up to speed on this, that would be a great use of time.

  17. Your last paragraph hit the railroad spike right on the head daikonos09.
    To undo this will take more than this blog (although this blog is a GREAT help).One of the first things that has to happen is catechesis of our bishop and priest brothers…time is on our side I suppose. Some priests need to stop looking at us like just another “flower pot” on the altar and take our ministry seriously.
    We also, in many instances, need deacons who don’t just lie down when it comes to catechizing…they need to stand up and RESPECTFULLY and with humility let their pastors know what we were taught and what our rights and responsibilities are…….and then do what they tell us – always ready to seize the opportunity for more instruction. Notice none of this condones dis-obedience, for that IS what we promised.
    Women who think they can’t get into the “good ol’ boys” club got nothing on a deacon trying to get a word in edgewise in a pack of priests…..just one of many experiences.

    Peace to all

  18. I think Dympha had a legit question.

    All the questions that follow–

    How many sick and shut-ins need to be ministered to?
    How many people in jails and prisons need the Church?
    How many homeless and poor need to be fed?
    How many souls in the secular world or the “market place” need to be exposed to Christ on a daily basis?
    How many marriages need to be blessed?
    How many children need to be baptized?
    How many people need to be buried??

    –You don’t need to be ordained to do most of that. Sounds like the works of mercy, mostly, and I’m pretty sure Jesus told us ALL to do that.

    Indeed, I would hope the advent of permanent deacons does not get lay people off the hook to be real disciples.

  19. I think it is clear that the diaconate is part of holy orders, no argument there. But what is its role in the church at this time? That something that is still in process….

    Without bishops, you do not have more priests ordained. Without priests, you do not have the Mass celebrated. But without deacons? Many ,if not most of their functions can be done by “extraordinary ministers” from the laity when there is not a deacon.

    I think it might be helpful if deacons would not just moan and have little pity parties that no one understands them or appreciates them, and start to take some responsibility that for the current state of the diaconate? The tensions and problems are not just the fault of the priests and bishops not understanding them.
    Deacons bring a lot of baggage to the table also.

    For many in the church the “icons” of service are seen more in people like Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier, Catherine Doherty (of Madonna House), Mother Teresa, and many other lay and non ordained of the past 50 years.

    If deacons do not like their current image with other clergy and laity, maybe they could try to be more open to what others are saying, not be so defensive and take some responsibility for the current problems. Trust me there are a lot of people who are ready to give a lot of feedback.

  20. If one looks at the three levels of Holy Orders carefully and at what is specific to each, we can begin to see what a deacon’s role is or should be. But of course the roles ijterplay and overlap, but still it gives us a path to follow.

    A bishop receives the fullness of Orders and ever aspect of this sacrament is his and the authority to minister derives from him (on the earthly level). So this is easy enough to see. The presbyter’s unique ministry (compared to a deacon) is to celebrate the Eucharist, absolve penitents and anoint the sick. Of the two lower levels these are his by ordination. The deacon is to preach the Gospel and assist at Mass in what is seen by the Church as a necessary and not an auxillary role (the Missal presumes Mass with deacon as the norm). Either presbyter or deacon may baptize, witness marriages and officiate at burial blessings.

    In the Roman Church which had been without permanent deacons for so many centuries tasks proper to the deacon and shared by the presbyter have come ot be seen as “the priest’s turf” and so deacons can be viewed by some as interlopers. But this is an erroneous view that man innocently persist in preserving, thinking they are “standing up” for the priests. This sensitivity to the presbyters was actually what is behind the tendency since the 1970s to overemphasize the deacon’s similarity to laity.

    Had the Roman Church not been bereft of deacons for centuries we would not even be having this dialogue, but it is what it is. I agree that deacons must respecyfully stand up for their canonical rights and duties but brothers you do not need me to tell you that you better have your jock cup on when you do so. I admire the older guys who pioneered and must have put up with so much flack. But I am seeing among us younger guys a real awareness of our clerical canonical standing, particularly in my area with regards to the collar (NO do NOT start on THAT topic!!!!) which is being taken up as a way iof silently catechizing even by those who are not huge fans of it. And our experience has been that after the flack dies down (“Why do YOU have THAT on?) it is a great teaching opporunity. And you know what? It only takes a few time sin the collar for the laity ro really and finally get “it”…”Oh so you are like the deacons from the seminary who come here duirng the Summer?” Not exactl but way better than what they used to think._

  21. diak09: the role of the deacon is to “proclaim” the gospel reading at Mass, he may preach at times but that is not HIS role.

    I do not think it is all that clear that there should be a deacon at every Mass, Rome has never ‘mandated’ that there be permanent deacons but always made it optional for bishop conferences to request permission and to implement permanent deacons and conferences have always allowed individual dioceses not to have deacons.

  22. Whether more are needed? Deacons are the ORDINARY MINSTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION; if we had more of them then the aberration of multitudes of laity as factually ordinary minsters of Holy Communion would soon cease, as the Holy Father wants and no one takes the hint!

  23. anthony –

    I think the things you say here regarding the diaconate are unfortunately quite common. It bears little resemblance to the mind of the Church on the matter (and by “Church” I do not mean exclusively the West) but there you go.

    In fact, what it reveals is how far the minimalist spirit pervades the mindset of the faithful towards the liturgy.

    It is the same spirit that questions the wisdom of God to have created the angelic powers who are servants of God and creation when, by golly, He could simply have done the whole thing by Himself! What need did He have for secondary causes?

    (See this article: )

    Certainly it is sufficient for validity’s sake to have a priest celebrate the Mass, but it diminishes the full manifestation of the Church’s catholicity not to have a deacon (or two deacons) serving as well. This has been the case since the days of the early Church and its antecedents in the Tabernacle, Temple and Synagogue.

    Deacons are icons of Christ and icons of the angelic powers, much like the Levitical priesthood, bringing order to the Temple, the liturgical cosmos, and offering intercessory prayers like incense. In the Byzantine iconographical tradition, the angels are vested in diaconal vestments.

    The Western (perhaps Jansenistic?) tendency to reduce apostolic ministry to its sacerdotal dimension…to reduce everything to the primary “cause” of the Mass loses sight of what the Mass is meant to be – the iconographical manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and the elevation of earth into heaven….the participation of “secondary causes” in the offering and communion in the Holy Trinity.

    The deacon also manifests the fatherhood of the bishop in a particular way – his fatherhood as “servant”, whereas the priest manifests the bishop’s fatherhood as “shepherd.” Both are complimentary and both are essential to being Catholic, whether or not you choose to acknowledge that fact.

  24. Deacon Daniel, you wrote “Both are complimentary and both are essential to being Catholic, whether or not you choose to acknowledge that fact.”

    I do not think i have given any personal views of mine on this topic. And from your response I think you have missed the whole point of my comments. (which is a problem with comments sections).

    I am familiar with the traditions of the diaconate in the Eastern Church and of their important and iconic role in the Divine Liturgy.
    One of the best books I know on the diaconate is by a Greek orthodox theologian. But I think it is safe to say the role of the diaconate has a very different history and development in the West, so it is not that easy to compare the two. Even liturgically the role of the deacon is very different in many important ways between the Divine Liturgy and the traditional latin mass.
    I am happy to dialogue and have feedback but it should be on statements that i actually made! thanks

  25. anthony –

    But is it not the same Ordo?

    And did not the Council Fathers – while differing somewhat by adding presidential roles in the sacramental celebrations of Baptism and Marriage (something I disagree with personally) – essentially look to the consistent Eastern practice to restore the aspect of permanency to the Ordo in the West?

    If the deacon in the Mass (Ordo of Paul VI) is allowed to function properly – and iconographically – as he should, while it is not as extensive as his Eastern brethren, it nevertheless fulfills many of the same traditional diaconal roles represented in our shared tradition.

    The disorientation of the sanctuary which predominates at present I believe also lends itself to a diminished iconographical role for the deacon in relationship to the priest and the faithful. I also think that deacons unfortunately do not see the acolytes as a proper extension of their diaconal charism, and thus primarily under their guidance, not the priests. (The two, of course, working hand in hand.)

    I cannot speak to the EF, since I am unfamiliar with this tradition. I have heard that the earlier predominance of the Low Mass for Sunday without a deacon was something of an earlier “abuse.”

    The Anglican Usage seems to appreciate its deacons though!

    But where I have seen the OF celebrated well – even in Latin – two deacons were serving with the presbyter, who is also the bishop’s delegate at the parish and traditionally serves with two deacons, I believe. As I said, it certainly adds a Catholic sense of fullness to the celebration of the Mass so long as the deacons know what they are doing and are properly trained in their liturgical ministry. In speaking to a Latin few priests, this seems to be the bigger beef among them – that their deacons are not always trained as well in their liturgical roles. Of course, I have heard the same thing about priests from not a few deacons!

    As to preaching, again it seems hit or miss with both priests and deacons. In visiting Latin parishes over the years as a layman, I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly on both sides. But inevitably, the priests that I have met who encourage and guide a thriving diaconal charism in their parishes have very strong churches, especially since deacons are called pastorally not only to be intercessors for the faithful but also to be animators in the exercise of their baptismal charisms.

    I would be interested in the book you mention on the diaconate by the Greek Orthodox theologian if you have a moment.

    A blessed Fast…

  26. Dear Deacon Daniel,

    here is the name of the book:

    Remembering and Reclaiming Diakonia: The Diaconate Yesterday and Today
    by John Chryssavgis

    i found a used copy last year on amazon.

  27. Fr. Deacon Daniel wrote:

    Inevitably, the priests that I have met who encourage and guide a thriving diaconal charism in their parishes have very strong churches, especially since deacons are called pastorally not only to be intercessors for the faithful but also to be animators in the exercise of their baptismal charisms.


    Dcn. G.

  28. Dear Deacon Daniel
    i just remembered that Dr. Chryssavgis gave a talk on the diaconate to a gathering of priests on the diaconate at a convocation of the clergy of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.
    They did have all the talks on their website of the AOC. Most of the info in the talk is from his book.

  29. Deacon Daniel, one last thought on this thread. i totally agree with your statement:

    “deacons are called pastorally not only to be intercessors for the faithful but also to be animators in the exercise of their baptismal charisms.”

    if deacons are seen to be doing the above, I do not think there will be problems and the diaconate will find its place in the Roman Church.

    I was trying to say in my above posts that part of the problems comes when deacons are more motivated by their own needs, their role, their titles and clerical dress etc……others pick this up right away and this is also part of the trouble. when there are troubles, it might help deacons to look at their own hearts before they put the blame right away on others.

    if by chance you would like to discuss this more you can reach me at ihidayany at aol dot com.

  30. anthony –

    Thank you for the references and your additional comments!

    Yes – I think that certain deacons (although it is not exclusive to them) forget that being a cleric is not an end in itself, it must find its ultimate fulfillment in service to God and the Church, to the building up of the body, not necessarily the ego.

    All that you mentioned (clerical dress, roles, titles, etc) should be at the service of one’s ministry, and not the focus of one’s ministry. And one need not be serving long to realize that ministry is a call not to glory, but to humility and humiliation! I love that line from the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great asking God that the ministers of the Church not be put to confusion! CLEARLY Basil was a shepherd with REAL pastoral experience! 🙂

    Thank you for your e-mail. Will drop you a line…

    God bless!

  31. Anthony

    In the Roman Church a deacon, like a presbyter, receives a universal mandate to preach and does not need special faculites to do so. If you read the Acts of the Apostles you will see that Stephen and Philip, precursors to the deacon today are best rememebred in Scripture for preaching and teaching. The frequency of his preaching is a call made by the pastors where he ministers but frequency has nothing to do with the validity of his sacramental mission. But you are indeed correct that the deacon is the preferred cleric to prclaim the Gospel even at a papal Mass.

    As far as the Church seeing a deacon at Mass with the prebyter as the norm. take the Liturgies with Pope or Bishop as presider and you will see that they are never without the deacons. This is the ancient tradition and it is only the lack of deacons in some places which make this most complete form of ministers at the Liturgy possible. The texts of the Missal are also written with a deacon in mind (when able to be present).

  32. Dear Deacon Daniel,
    I do not disagree with you. i was responding to another post that says it is the deacons role to preach the Gospel at Mass, which it is not. he may preach but his role is to proclaim the gospel reading.

    I am not sure what the practice of faculties really is, because in the dioceses around my area Deacon are allowed to preach at the sacraments they celebrate (baptism, marriages) and at prayer services (vespers, wakes etc) but they only receive faculties to preach at Mass if they take extra homiletics and studies.

    My other response about having a deacon at Mass, was not if there should be ( i agree with that), but to show the roman church seems very conflicted on this. The diaconate is restored but only as an option for bishops conferences and even then individual bishops do not have to implement it. so there is some ambiguity there, and if you know the roman church, you know it can be very clear in its mandates! but in this area it is not clear and even confusing.

    again if you would like to contact me, you can use my email since i do not check this blog often.

  33. anthony –

    I think you were just now responding to diakonos09 which is not my handle…

    God bless!

  34. I have to respectfully disagree with Deacon Kurt on the diocese of Joliet having a “very strong” formation program. The current formation program is in desperate need of revision. The current program is extremely deficient.

    The selection process (at the parish level) is as well. Men called to formation need to emulate the total self donation of Christ rather than exercise their own will.

    Thank God that they suspended the process until changes can be made.

    Please pray for our program and all of our current and future Deacons. Also pray the we get a strong Bishop capable of continuing the great work of Bishop Peter J. Sartain.

    Dominus vobiscum.

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