“We need more deacons”

That’s the argument that Phyllis Zagano makes in her column in this week’s National Catholic Reporter, as she notes several dioceses that for one reason or another have suspended their formation programs:

A while back, Cardinal Walter Kasper said bishops have two arms: the priesthood and the diaconate. But a few U.S. bishops have interrupted their diaconal formation programs and are not training new candidates during this academic year.

Will there be others? Why now? Can we expect a cadre of one-armed bishops?

Rumors abound that the Congregation for Clergy has asked bishops to evaluate the diaconate in their dioceses — sooner, rather than later — and that U.S. bishops are preparing their reports.

Given that nearly half the world’s deacons reside in the United States, it’s understandable that Roman spyglasses would be pointed at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Do you think it might be about married clergy? The latest study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate counted 16,921 deacons and 39,466 priests in the U.S. — slightly fewer total clergy than in 1965. But in 1965, the 58,632 ordained men were priests, only the smallest fraction of them married. Now, factoring in the deacons, nearly one-third of U.S. clerics are married.

Is this a problem?

Shouldn’t be. Deacons are ordained to serve the Word, the liturgy and charity. Nobody really cares whether they are married or not, though married men lend an added dimension to the deacon’s special (and traditional) role serving as a bridge between the bishop and the rest of the church.

The deacons are – theoretically, at least — direct representatives of the bishop in the church’s ministry of charity. Some have paying parochial or diocesan jobs; some work at Catholic social service agencies or schools. Most have a modest but firm footing in both the secular world and the church.

And deacons living the full charism of the diaconate are among those closest to the suffering church. That defined charism includes carrying the Gospel to the world, both symbolically in the liturgy and in fact in daily ministry. One would think the ministers closest to the church’s charity would be the ones to connect it to the words of Scripture.

Well, maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the bishop.

Last June, Bishop Alexander K. Sample of Marquette, Mich., issued a long commentary on the diaconate that includes a letter-of-the law approach to deacons at Mass. It seems he does not want deacons to be regular homilists.

OK. Guess he has a full complement of priests capable of preaching clearly and understandably. Not every diocese is so lucky.

Read more. The comments after the column are provocative, too.

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79 responses to ““We need more deacons””

  1. The question may surface as to how many deacons does a parish really need ?

    At one time, when my parish of approximately 4,100 “head-count, there was the priest/pastor; a “rookie” priest as an assistant pastor; a priest/high-school chaplain in residence and four active deacons. Years later, the high-school chaplain was assigned a different Sacramental Chaplaincy responsibility on week-ends in a mission parish some 35 miles away; the diocese had so few recent seminary graduates that other parishes picked them up and we did not have any; but the number of active deacons had increased to six. Today we have a priest/pastor who is shared with another parish with three active and three “senior/emeritus” deacons in those two parishes (Total headcount of those two now sits at 5,800).

    Along the way, the idea has slowly developed that every parish of 2,500 headcount or more deserves its own full-time priest pastor. Then, for every 1,000 parishioners above 2,500, there should be some type of supporting clergy (priests/assistant pastors; deacons; seminarian-interns). My current situation seems to follow that path.

    That also would mean that one of those “mega-church” parishes we see out in suburbia (3,500 family units/ 10,000 headcount) needs one full-time priest/pastor and seven supporting clergy (priests/ deacons/ seminarian-interns). I did a quick web-scan of six of those Roman Catholic “mega-churches” that I know about and they also approximate that guideline I mentioned above.

  2. Check out Zenit today. Opus Dei just ordained 35 new deacons.

    [N.B. They are transitional deacons who will all be ordained priests in six months. Dcn. G.]

  3. Why does it always seem that Ms. Zagano while promoting the diaconate always seems so anti-Bishop and anti-priest? The comments following the article are so hateful (Roman clique etc)they are truly disturbing. If people are so filled with anger and loathing for the Church and the hierarchy why don’t they have the guts to leave.

  4. I can’t speak to the reasons for the suspension of diaconate programs everywhere, but I know for a fact that several were put on hold in order to create better programs. Formation had kind of evolved gradually over the last few decades as each diocese learned through experience what they needed, what worked, and what didn’t. Sometimes, this created uneven programs that needed to be re-examined and recreated based on the lessons of the past and experiences of the deacons. This was done by Bishop Serratelli in Paterson, for instance, resulting in a cohesive, improved program. There may well be bishops who take a dim view of the permanent diaconate, but I believe they are fairly rare. In other words, many bishops are working to IMPROVE their diaconate programs, a fact ignored by this particular writer because it doesn’t fit her narrative. Why is it that almost everything from the Reporter has this hectoring, uncharitable tone?

  5. And many people took you to task for such a faulty, biased, analysis; the hermeneutic is questionable, and it seems to be based upon an agenda you are trying to read into the situation, denying history and — when push comes to shove– insulting the East for not following your false desires.

  6. You are already contradicting yourself. Which is it, the articles speak for themselves, or you had to reply?

  7. Henry, you’re being petty. You posted twice, no? first, about my articles in general (and I said I was content to let them stand on their own), second, about St. Louis Catholic specifically, (and I said my reply to them had been removed). Other places on the net have parlayed my alleged ‘lack of response’ to STLC as some sort of tacit admission by me of defeat, and, on top of everything else, I am frustrated that my ‘lack of response’ to STLC is entirely STLC’s doing, not mine. Anyway…

    The clerical continence debate has moved well beyond the blogosphere, as anyone can see who consults the materials listed here: http://www.canonlaw.info/a_deacons.htm. THIS thread, I take it, is about clerical celibacy and the impact that married deacons are having on that. My Chicago Studies article examines that question, and some people might wish to read it. So, no need for anyone to get testy. Read it, or not. Agree with it, or not.

  8. Friends, Please don’t blame me for the attitudes on the NCR comment blog–and please read the whole piece, which includes the observation: “it makes perfect sense for a bishop here or there to regroup and take stock. The rejuvenated diaconate is relatively new, and maybe needs a tune-up in some places.” Thanks.

  9. Zagano also takes a shot at foreign priests who she says are “incomprehensible.” Thats not a good argument. These men are leaving their home countries to help out the U.S. Presbyterate. I’m sure they try very hard. And there is no evidence that a deacon will give a more substantive sermon than a priest from Africa or India. One could make the argument that she made a racist comment. Maybe it wasn’t, but it certainly wasn’t Christian. Then again, she seems to write her columns with a bitter and angry tone.
    Of course, my stating this means that I must have vitriol and venom in my heart. That’s the tactic–accuse someone of what you yourself are guilty of. Ms. Zagano is a liberal dreamer.

  10. RomCath,
    You hit the nail right on the head. Zagano detests the bishops and priests, resenting their “power,” the very thing she wants women to have in the Church. It’s truly an obsession with that one. Though I like permanent deacons, she doesn’t make a convincing case that we “need” more of them. There is always another mprice with Zagano–and it has nothing to do with having more MALE deacons. She could care less about that. It’s about women with Zagano, and power–always. Tragically for her, she’s going to be angry until her last day, because the Church is not goi g to admit women to Holy Orders.
    Nothing vitriolic in what I just said. Just a whole lot of truth.

  11. PZ, no one here would blame you for combox replies to your piece. Whether NCRep has spent 40+ years providing encouragement for such replies is another question. Pity is, there are occasional interesting pieces in NCRep, but they are usually so laced with and tangled up with other agenda, it’s not worth the effort to untangle them.

  12. I am confused why canonist Ed Peters continues to comment on this subject outside academic circles when he makes it quite clear in his article that he:

    “…. wrote, obviously, for professional canonists and theologians. While I believe my writing to be understandable by any intelligent reader with a background in Catholic thought, I caution non-professionals from assuming what professionals would correctly dismiss, and from missing what professionals would take for granted.”

    The only reason Ed would comment here is for the expressed purpose of reengaging a debate on clerical celibacy within the permanent diaconate with those outside acedemia. I just do not understand why?

  13. I would agree with Ed’s last comment. I think the Reporter is missing the boat in its expectations these days. Most of the men entering formation for the Priesthood tend to the traditional side of the Faith, and I’m believe that the same is starting to hold true in the Diaconate Formation. I don’t think it’s so much a desire to take one side or the other. Rather, I truly believe it shows a desire to accept and defend what the Church teaches, all of it. You won’t find a lot of them out there wanting “to sing a new church into being”. You’ll find that in spite of the flaws, most of us love the Church we find in the Catechism, support the Magisterium, and want to teach what the Church truly teaches. For the most part, that is never reflected in the articles in the Reporter, and most especially in it’s paid advertisers…

  14. Some thoughts:

    Need is certainly an issue. Just remember St. John Neumann was not ordained a priest in his home diocese because there were too many in the judgment of his bishop. Now, some dioceses may have more deacons than needed, theoretically, but I wonder if it is a real issue at present.

    The other issue is vocation. If a man is called to the diaconate he should pursue it. I imagine being married would theoretically make it more difficult in the situation where a diocese does not need more deacons. It would be harder for a married man to move his wife and family to another place than for a celibate man.

    I think a real test of the diaconate is the number of celibate men who believe they are called and are ordained deacons. Sadly, it can “seem” that married men chose it because they once wanted to be priests or they are older and want some influence in a parish and the Church. [N.B. I said seem. It’s an impression.] I think the diaconate gets identified as “holy orders for married men,” because priests can do everything a deacon can, so why not just encourage a man to become a priests. But, do any celibate men (and non-widowers) believe they are called to be and remain deacons? Frankly, I have only met one in my almost 20 years of parish hopping.
    If it is stressed that the diaconate is a personal call and the process of discernment is such that only men with a true call are allowed to continue with formation, then perhaps we will have celibate deacons who will remain deacons showing that it is a valuable vocation in itself.

  15. Bruce: There is a lot in your message that needs to be addressed, but I’ll just cover one item. Out of the well over 300 men who were deacons and who were either ordained in our diocese or moved in (temporarily or permanently) only one was celibate/single.

  16. But Ms. Zagano, the comments that are angry and anti-Church would not be there had you not raised the issue with your article in the fist place. One comment even suggests deacons should be able to anoint and hear confessions. That is absurd.
    Your assertion that the Church “needs more deacons” is highly debatable. Deacons are not going to solve the problem of the priest shortage. Even if they could anoint or absolve, they still cannot celebrate Mass.

  17. Friends, as I wrote: “Don’t get me wrong — I am delighted that young priests from India and Africa and elsewhere have the opportunity to serve for a few years in the United States.” Also, please don’t accuse me of “detesting” clergy–that’s just not true–and is essentially libelous. Your anger is quite distrubing–clearly not born of the Spirit. Please calm down and think about the good of the Church, not whatever agenda you have or want to ascribe to your idea of who I am.

  18. I note that this writer seems to believe that open dissent from Church teaching is good for the Church and seems to support folks like Charles Curran.


    “Spouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible and indeed necessary to preserve and foster the value and sacredness of marriage,” the hammer fell.

    The statement’s author, Charles Curran, was banished, and theologians who hoped to preserve their careers in Catholic universities were warned to change their minds or at least keep to themselves any dissenting opinions.

    While at the same time, she seems to have little use for “The new archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput put it this way a few days ago: The church is “no place for cafeteria Catholics,” he said. “If they don’t believe what the church teaches, they aren’t really Catholics.”

    This author seems typical of those who live on the fringe of the Catholic Church teaching constantly pecking away at what is established truth in the Church. It is also interesting that the Deacon seems to be in this same camp by often supporting her rants. Does the Deacon have the same low opinion of Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Chaput?

    [Knock it off, “Carl.” You tried this schtick once. Don’t try it again. You’re only getting one warning. Dcn. G.]

  19. The permanent Diaconate was not reinstituted to solve the priest shortage problem. It isn’t an either or situation. Even if we had 4 priests per parish, there would still be a role and a need for the Diaconate. I don’t understand why people continue to see that increasing the number of deacons must reduce the number of men that will go into the ministerial priesthood. They are very different callings, that mutually support each other and help to spread the gospel. I don’t see men choosing to be deacons rather than becoming priests. The deacons and men in formation that I know were not called to the priesthood, and never felt the call to the priesthood. Had we not been ordained as permanent deacons we would not have been ordained as priests, that was not our calling.

  20. Hi Mark. Celibacy and continence are related, but severable, issues. I thought we were talking here about the impact of 1,000s of married deacons on celibacy in the West. That’s what I raised in my CS article, and to what I referred here. Others seem to want to raise the related, but distinct, issue of continence. Their call, not mine. btw, CS later carried what purported to be a reply to my CS article and, well, that’s a whole new thread. It’s referenced on website, along with my reply to Dcn. Duderstadt. Best, edp.

  21. Mark

    It’ s simple, Ed Peters is trying to do argument from authority to squash the reality within the Church itself. He wants to create the Church in the image of his interpretation, saying he is an authority, but then denounces the Church’s actual practice which shows his interpretation is faulty. By engaging blogs (and yes, it is mostly blogs, no authority has taken his position) it seems he is hoping to plant the seeds for the implementation of his faulty ideas.

  22. “Even if we had 4 priests per parish, there would still be a role and a need for the Diaconate.”

    What exactly would the role and need of the Deacon be in this case? You have 4 priests ministering in a parish and serving the spiritual needs of the people. If they are doing their job well, what would be the need for deacons. I am confused about this. What would the deacon be doing that the priest is not?
    As one commenter noted, many of the Deacons, especially those ordained in the early days of the restored diaconate, were formerly novices in religious orders or even major seminarians who left and eventually married. As soon as the diaconate was restored, they jumped right in. Was it celibacy? What would they have done had the diaconate had not been restored? I know many deacons and at least ten who were former sems or novices.

  23. The Church needs more men of prayer, to hear the call of Jesus.
    The Church needs more men of courage, to say yes to the call of Jesus.
    The Church needs more strong men to take up their cross and follow Jesus in a ministry of service.
    The Church needs more men with love in their hearts, men who love their wives and children, to become Deacons.

    St. Joseph, pray for more Deacon vocations.
    Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us.

  24. “think about the good of the Church”

    It would be nice if those whose comments follow your NCR article were thinking of the good of the Church. They seem to be filled with anger at everything the Bishops and priests do or don’t do.
    I also think some Bishops have suspended Deacon programs because Deacons are not doing what Deacons should do. Maybe the formation programs should be addressing the ministry they are called to perform. Too many worry about collars and dalmatics.

  25. I never said or wrote the following: “While at the same time, she seems to have little use for “The new archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput put it this way a few days ago: The church is “no place for cafeteria Catholics,” he said. “If they don’t believe what the church teaches, they aren’t really Catholics.”

  26. Ken:
    I have a visceral reaction to your comment:
    “These men are leaving their home countries to help out the U.S. Presbyterate.”

    So, read my comments with that in mind.

    For the most part, these men come to the U.S. from countries that hardly have the advantages and living conditions that we have, even in our poorer parishes. Granted they have left their families and countries and native countries, which can be a sacrifice.

    Compare this to the sacrifice of our missionaries who have left the U.S. to minister in the poorest of poor countries.

    There, I vented my spleen.

  27. HMS,
    I respect your comments. But keep in mind, whether they come to a richer country or not, the Church in the U.S. would be on serious trouble without them. Ms. Zagano crows that they are “incomprehensible.” At best, she is uncharitable and ungrateful. Nevertheless, they are positively indispensable right now, and permanent deacons aren’t. If deacons find that offensive, so be it. No offense intended. Truth is intended, and Ms. Zagano needs a little reminder to get off her high horse and stop fretting about women deacons. They are not necessary. More priests are needed. Period.

  28. Sorry I’m getting to this party late, but I would like to make a couple of points:
    1) I’m always amazed at the emotional reactions of some responders, both here and on the NCR blog. Since I’ve known and collaborated with DOCTOR Zagano (why do people who disagree with her and want to minimize her arguments always insist on not addressing her by her earned academic title? What’s a work there? I’m not saying that she wants that, but if a person is going to use a title (like “Ms.”), why not use the correct one?), I can attest that she would never expect people to agree 100% with everything she says; neither would I, or any other author/scholar/researcher. We work, we put ideas into the public arena, and encourage discourse about those ideas. It’s how things work. But on so many issues these days, “reasoned discourse” is a lost art. If we disagree with someone else, so many of us seem to think that it’s OK to demonize them or to minimize their positions. That’s a whole different matter than responding with reason and humility.

    For example, at the launch of our recent book, Sr./Dr. Sara Butler attended the event. Although her written position on the question of women deacons would be different from ours, she was courteous, open to learning and dialogue, and honestly interested in the whole dynamism of thought and learning. Would that all of us could take a lesson from her example. We should be able to disagree without demonization.

    2) Concerning the number of deacons, let me emphasize a couple of points that have been made. First, with all respect to my diaconal brother Norb, the question should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be: “How many deacons does my parish need!” One of the real concerns I have about the diaconate in the United States (it’s different overseas) is the over-parochialization of the diaconate. Pastors are assigned to be “parochial” in their focus, but deacons — even those assigned to a parish — are still supposed to have the even more fundamental role of extending the reach of the BISHOP into areas in which the Church is not already active! So, the question is not, “How can deacons help in the ministries of this parish?” Rather, the question for the deacon ought to be: “What areas of need in our community are not being addressed, or addressed adequately?” THAT’s where the deacon should go. So, if there are people going hungry, out of work, addicted, abused, sick, dying in any part of the community in which you live, then that’s where the deacons ought to be coordinating things. Sure, deacons, like all Catholics, ought to have a parish “base”, but he’s not supposed to limit his activities to the parish only! That’s why, in many dioceses now, deacons receive a DOUBLE assignment: one to a parish, and one to a ministry/area outside the parish. So, I advise people here to think outside the parish “box” when considering whether or not you have enough deacons. If there’s one person in need in your community, there’s a need for the deacon.

    Second, the renewal of the diaconate at Vatican II had very little to do with any “priest shortage,” as I’ve written about so often in articles and books. As one of my former professors used to say quite often, “Vatican II didn’t restore the diaconate because of a shortage of priests, but because of a shortage of deacons.” As one of my deacon-brothers wrote above, we could have all kinds of new priests ordained tomorrow, and there would STILL be need for deacons. See my previous paragraph.

    3) So, some people don’t like Dr. Zagano’s tone. Might I suggest that they get over it and look rather to the points she’s trying to make! Whether you agree with them or not, or like her tone or not, the points deserve to be listened to and considered. You may not like what your doctor tells you at your next physical, but you’d still be wise to pay attention anyway.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  29. Deacon Bill,
    You’re scandalized by the tone of the responders, yet you tell us to just get over Zagano’s tone. If Zagano wasn’t so abrasive, so nasty in her attitude towards church authority, and so cynical about the bishops, people might react better.

  30. In my diocese, Deacons cannot be ordained unless they are sponsored by their pastors, supported and recommended by their pastors and are assigned to that parish when ordained. The fact that Deacons are called to minister outside their parish and in the community is not the case here. Maybe it is in other places but here they are canonically assigned to a specific parish.
    As for the tone of Dr Zagano’s post I didn’t find it too harsh but I did find it at the NCR comments. I hope you are chastising them as you chastised those here.

  31. Dear Ken,

    I did get over it; that’s why I wrote the post. And never did I write that I was “scandalized by the tone of the responders.” Where do you get such a thing?

    And, is that all you got from my post? That’s disappointing. I thought I was trying to make more important points than that. Guess I’ll have to do better next time.

    Perhaps you should read it again.
    God bless,
    Deacon Bill

  32. Many, many folks have the impression that Holy Orders and the religious life are what constitute vocations. We don’t just need these vocations, we need HOLY vocations to ALL states of life. HOLY vocations are like the seed that yields one hundred-fold. One HOLY vocation draws many others to choose Christ and labor for the kingdom. Look at what JPII and Mother Teresa of Calcutta inspired, not to mention the Apostles. And, the seedbed of HOLY vocations to ALL states of life is very often found in the family, which is The Domestic Church. Let us pray, then, for an increase in HOLY vocations to ALL states of life. Therein lies the true answer to the needs of the Church, holiness of life.

    Ps. Happy Veterans Day to all Vets tomorrow. Thank you for your sacrifices and for your dedicated and loyal service to our country and our freedom.

  33. As for the tone-deaf folks: you seem to be offended no matter what I write or say, always willing to be offended. Too bad. Does not contribute to the discussion, as Dcn./Dr. Ditewig points out.

    As for Veterans’ Day. thank you for your good wishes.
    Phyllis Zagano, Ph.D.
    Commander, USNR (Ret.)

  34. Dear Notgiven,

    Thanks for the Veteran’s Day wishes; I echo them, with a huge thanks to all who have served.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill
    Commander, United States Navy (ret.)

  35. Bill:

    In theory; I could not agree any more.

    My perspective — in posting #1 — deals with a more practical matter. I have served three years on our local diocese’s Deacons’ Personnel Board. We assess the needs for deacons at whatever level and make recommendations to our bishop about assignments; however, it is he who appoints deacons to those assignments. Our bishop’s assignments are always to PARISHES (not to priests-partners or pastors or even Diocesan Ministries) and even if a deacon does have a diocesan assignment (we currently have a Port Chaplaincy open), that is a secondary assignment and that deacon is always identified as being connected to a parish first. The challenge we had as a Board was this: how could we determine whether any given parish has “too many deacons” and thus go on to deliberate who might best serve the wider church by being assigned somewhere other than his home parish.

    Whether appointments to parishes FIRST is “correct” or even “appropriate,” I’ll leave it to others to decide. And yes, I have served in diocesan level appointments all through my career, but if you were to look up my name — or that of any other deacon in my diocese — the “default” option for that corporate identification is always back at our parish of assignment.

    Keep up the good work!

  36. Wow! Are you including me, Dr. Zagano, Commander, US Navy Reserve (Retired)?

    I was simply stating that holiness of life is the key to more vocations and was not making an argument for or against your particular point(s).

    Recommend dropping the name calling (“tone-deaf folks”). Name calling is a passive aggressive bullying tactic that only serves to alienate people even more than they already feel distanced. One wins more flies with honey than with vinegar. I am happy to listen to your points and your arguments. Likewise, I respectfully request everyone be treated with the same dignity accorded them by God.

  37. The weakest of all arguments is the ‘ad hominem.’
    ad hominem [argument]
    1:appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
    2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by
    an answer to the contentions made.

    God bless our vets—-God bless the USA!

  38. Deacons are called to ministry in both their parish and outside their parish. I believe that in all diocese the deacon candidate must be sponsored by his pastor and they are assigned to a specific parish because we are not to be “lone rangers” without some oversight by a pastor to whom we are accountable for immeadiate needs. We are ordained to serve the Bishop, however, not our parish per se. I took a vow of obedience to my Bishop and his successors, not to the parish. Many do find that thier calling to social justice ministry is primarily in their parish of assignment, but many others do not. We are however to bring our outside experiences to the parish when we serve at the altar and proclaim the Gospel. We have a 3 fold minsitry of Word, Altar, and Charity. All three need to be in balance and relationship for us to exercise our minstry in a healthy way.

  39. The issue of “how many is too many” is moot in Brooklyn. Few parishes here have more than one deacon, and many have none. There is a particular need among Spanish-speaking parishes. Men in formation understand that when they are ordained they may not be assigned to their home parishes, but will be placed instead where they are needed most. My class was the first to do this, and the understanding is that we are serving five-year terms, just like the priests.

    Dcn. G.

  40. NOW, “RomCath,” this may well be the experience in your section of the country and I have no way of refuting that. The first deacons in my diocese were ordained in 1973 — I was ordained five years later in 1978. I know all of the men who were part of those early classes and NONE of them were ever in priestly formation at any time nor were members of a monastic community. PERIOD.

  41. Maybe I am too naive but I never thought that Dr Peters was trying to squash a reality in the Church. The Canon Lawyers I know like clarity and there seems to be ambiguity in Canon Law on this subject. This ambiguity gives people the opportunity to debate the subject and someone needs to take his opinion to have one (i.e. a debate). He is correct that if there is a reality in the Church that is contrary to Canon Law, something needs to give. It is the job of the Magisterium to make that call and if Canon Law needs to be changed to reflect that teaching, so be it.

    I would like to see what Dr Peters would propose if the Holy See requested that he develop changes to Canon Law that would reflect the current reality in the Church concerning the permanent diaconate. It would be an interesting exercise.

  42. Deacons can spread the Gospel and reach people in civic groups, in factories and plants, and in business offices through their constant regular contact and relationships in a way no priest can. We are the best missionaries to an increasingly secular world. The trouble is that too many of our basically good priests have virtually no missionary impulse or drive. My co-workers (some who have returned to the Faith) even expect me to be able to educate them on how to behave at Jewish funerals. (Luckily, I have had a lot of good Jewish friends over the years.)
    And it is their seeing me carry out the duties of a deacon at Mass that seems to help encourage their approaching me with religious questions and problems as we share lunch or a coffee break.

  43. John: I rarely agree with you on most things but here I have to say “Right On!!”

    –Two local deacons, both now in “senior/emeritus” status, worked for years on an automotive assembly line. Both applied for and were accepted into the UAW”s “Assembly-Line-Chaplains” program and served there for years.

    –One of our local deacons — a long time two-year college administrator — served for over ten years as a “Professional Catholic Campus Minister” certified by the Catholic Campus Ministry Association. He still on occasion gets calls for advice from dioceses that are confused how to minister at the community college level.

    –Two others of our local deacons are Hispanic and both worked in the farm-worker migrant stream at some time in their lives. Thus, their ministry out in the fields and camps, was one of “been-there-done-that.”

    –Finally, I know a deacon, now in “senior/emeritus” status who was elected to public office as a County Commissioner long after he was ordained. Canon Law say that deacons can run for elected offices — priests cannot.

    Most folks tend to forget that deacons are often “Specialists in Ministry” in fields that priests cannot (or will not) serve.

  44. The diocese we live in would prefer to have at least seven deacons in every parish. There is so much work to do. There is so much need. It’s endless. The argument really is a mute one only to the extent that a bishop would let his ego get in the way of service. If I was a bishop, I wouldn’t want to have to explain myself for that one. Do some programs need to be altered, bettered, that’s a whole other issue.

  45. Dr Zagano:
    I agree with your point about a Bishop’s need for a strong diaconate to serve as his “ears, mouth, heart and soul”. A bishop needs trustworthy priests and deacons to enable him to do what God calls him to do.

    I, too, have seen the problem with foreign priests giving unintelligible homilies, or homilies given with some misunderstandings of the English language as spoken by modern day Americans. Generally the foreign priests I have seen have a sound spiritual life and are faithful to the church’s teachings – but that is lost when giving the homily.

    I will also add that I have seen an abundance of older priests who speak English very clearly and with a solid grasp of the English language in their homilies. How I wish they had as sound a spiritual life and were as faithful to the church’s teachings as the foreign priests. Unfortunately I have heard too many modernist heresies and/or political views in homilies that defy church teaching that were very clearly stated in intelligent English.

    As to deacons as homilists, I have heard both good and bad homilies from deacons over the last 3 decades, but generally the best deacons I have heard are on the same level spiritually and intellectually as the best priests I have heard. I think it is just my experience, but I have heard less heresy in homilies by deacons than I have in homilies from priests. I certainly have heard astoundingly good homilies from both. And at least in my experience, the recently ordained priests seem to have it all: solid spiritual lives and excellent homiletic training.

    It seems to me the biggest problem the Catholic church in the United States has is one of inadequate and in some cases inaccurate catechesis. Priests can’t do it all, and the laity need the bishop to point to who is trustworthy to teach. Before the poorly catechized can be gotten to a classroom, the only teaching many will hear is the homily – so make the most of it. A deacon who has gone through the process, pledged obedience to the bishop and been given the grace of orders seems to me to be a strong way a bishop can point to those with the requisite dedication and education.

  46. How very Biblical!

    Actually, according to some early church fathers, a church leader of the second century of the Christian era — in modern day Turkey, I think — in a city of maybe 10,000 folks (someone now known as a “bishop”) might have had seven “Elders” (what we would call today “priests”) and each of them would work with seven “servants” (what we would call today “deacons.”) Some of those “servants” had responsibilities for rural chapels in the country-side. Read all this somewhere. Maybe in a book listed at Deacon Bill’s blog.

    I do not know anywhere that ratio is in place!

  47. I have been an avid student and follower of conservative blogs. I can find the mocking articles of George Weigel about anything related to peace or justice. I think there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the history of folks like Diogenes, Corapi, Novak, Weigel, and a slew of others from the conservative political realm stoke the flames of “cafeterianism.”

    NatCatRep, despite the aggressive responses of conservatives, reported on priest abuse of children a decade before it was “discovered” by conservative Catholics.

    EWTN, overvenerated as it is, has little trouble finding among its guests libertarian priests like Sirico (and libertarianism is not part of the Church’s social theory in the least), made a soapbox for Corapi, and has had Raymond Arroyo equally dismiss and promote waterboarding (with Sirico cheering him on) while making no room for liberal priests or liberal points of view.

    The Body of Christ does poorly with this division and you are one of the promoters of this division as intensely as NatCathRep.

  48. Among Catholics, discussions of the diaconate tend to focus on the ways in which deacons can help to alleviate the priest shortage. Seldom do we think of the need in our parishes, in our communities, and in our world for what deacons are specifically ordained to do–namely, the ministry of Christ-like service. I think the diaconate would more likely “come into its own” if (a) there were not such a shortage of priests and (b) celibacy were not mandatory for priests.

    The two, of course, are obviously related; I learned to my sorrow today that one of our very finest young priests had decided to leave in order to marry. I recently read that the new Melkite bishop in Newton, Massachusetts, has decided to ordain married men, specifically because he wants to alleviate the shortage of priests there. Perhaps his experience will prove instructive.

  49. Indeed there may be a need for more deacons in certain areas of the country, but having someone from NCR point that out on The Deacon’s Bench is for me a tad unsettling–and is not apt to help the cause of deacons very much.

    Maybe Richard McBrien or Ms. Chittister will be the next NCR writer to appear in this space. Not good, from my point of view. But then I am a conservative curmudgeon.

    Besides, isn’t Phyllis Zagano the digital “stalker” who made life interesting for awhile for Father Z?

    [Donal…I post a wide array of opinions here, from many sources — EWTN, NCR, First Things, the New York Times et al. I don’t agree with them all, or support them all. But they’re interesting (I hope) and shed light on the many differing parts that make up the Body of Christ. I try to make sure they are consistent with Church teaching. When they aren’t, I say so. It’s a big Church. Which is part of the overarching message I hope this blog conveys. Dcn. G.]

  50. Friends, I am not really a blog commenter, so I perhaps mis-posted earlier. I meant to say those who find my “tone” offensive are only too willing to be offended. Some of these (I note in a recent post) are egged on by the mysterious “Father Z”, who has slandered and encouraged slander against me–especially after I began to try to learn more about him. To call me a “digital stalker” is rather beyond the pale. As for things appearing in NCR–please understand that columnists are not reporters, and publications often carry columnists who are not politically aligned with their editorial pages. That is the origin of opinion writing: “op-ed”–opposite the editorials both in space and outlook. I must say–as have many others privately and off-line–the electronic liberties folks who anonymously claim to be Catholic clerics take in blogs are upsetting and not indicative of the work of the Spirit. I am an academic who publishes 26 columns/year online with the National Catholic Reporter, having left the Religion News Service after some run-ins over my pro-life attitudes and support of Catholic doctrine in other areas. In 2011, I published one book, one co-authored book, the last of a 5-volume series for which I had general editorship, two refereed papers, one talk, and a few other short pieces in addition to regular columns. I think it is time for Catholics to stop sniping at each other and turn a positive ear toward the work of folks–including theologians–who are staying within the lines of doctrine and trying to build up (not tear down) the Church. Respectful discussion, as Deacon Bill noted, is possible and I would say necessary for us all. Greetings to fellow Veterans on our day!

  51. Phyllis,

    Having worked as an editor eons ago for The Chicago Sun-Times and U.S. Catholic Magazine (before it listed so far to the left) and Loyola University Press, I understand the difference between reporters and columnists, reportage and opinion.

    And even though I am a theological conservative, I subscribe to Commonweal and America just to keep an eye on what liberals are thinking since I was once one of their number. I also appreciate the respect those magazines have for poetry, fiction and the arts. Conservative publications lack that kind of content. But NCR is so far to the left of Commonweal and America that I simply cannot stomach a publication that house the likes of McBrien and Chittister.

    It is true that I know nothing about what you believe except for what you state in your comment above, and I accept that. But if you frequent the same sty as McBrien and Chittister, perhaps you can understand how someone like me, who reads too much of the Catholic Press, in print and online, might erroneously conclude that you are little different in perspective than McBrien and Chittister.

    As far as Deacon Greg running your stuff, I simply say that I was unsettled to encounter your words early in the morning. But The Deacon’s Bench is possibly the best blog that Catholics have so I would not want my biases to affect his choices. But I might start reading it in the afternoon just in case McBrien or Chittister pop up without a decapitating rejoinder.

  52. Ad hominem and guilt by association are both terrible things to follow. Jesus was executed, in part, because of people following that kind of logic.

  53. Donal:

    I think that your internal editor that monitors nasty comments missed this slur.

    DELETE – “But if you frequent the same “STY” as McBrien and Chittister” – DELETE

  54. I’m not sure what makes Father Zuhlsdorf ‘mysterious’. I’ve met him, heard him speak, and received communion from him. If you’re a reporter (which I am) searching for information on him, it’s easy to find. If you’re a writer searching for scandalous material on an ideological opponent … well, that might be more difficult.

    It seems rather hollow to hear you calling for an improvement in tone when the only two pieces I’ve read by you were notable mainly for their attacks (both veiled and direct) on Church hierarchy. You can’t have it both ways. Either be a bomb-thrower and take your lumps (a perfectly fine approach), or write with the kind of “respectful” tone you seen to expect. You can’t, however, make a passive-aggressive accusation that the Congregation for the Clergy wants to “cancel Vatican II completely” and then act indignant when people respond in kind.

  55. ron–It is sad when what APPEARS to be a good priest leaves. In fact most priests that leave to get married seem to get nothing but sympathy these days.
    However, I served on as city council in a big city for a number of years. And my hero was a fellow councillor that our city kept returning to office for decades and decades until he was just to old to even attempt to run again. He had a simple motto that he frequently expressed and that I saw him follow no matter how much it might have hurt him politically or personally: “A man’s word is his bond.”
    Noone made this priest give his word to remain celibate. Noone twisted his arm or physically threatened him. He took the package. So I am tired of the sympathy vow and pledge breakers get in our society which is crumbling because people today make heros of those who insist on “Doing it my way” no matter what they had promised.

  56. ron–It is sad when what APPEARS to be a good priest leaves. In fact most priests that leave to get married seem to get nothing but sympathy these days.

    John…What would you prefer they get, if not sympathy? Condemnation? Derision? Ostracism?

    All the men I know who have been down this road have made this choice only after a lot of painful soul-searching. They need our prayers — and so do those parishioners they left behind.


  57. Mr. McDonald is an expert on quoits. Dr. Zagano is an expert on ministry. Mr. McDonald read two pieces “attacking” the hierarchy. Dr. Zagano has written hundreds of articles supporting the Church. Mr. McDonald likes “Father” Z’s championing of Bishop Finn. Dr. Zagano does not like priests or bishops who approve of pornographers. Shall I continue? read of Mr. McDonald’s expertize on Church matters at http://www.stateofplayblog.com/

  58. For the record, a point of clarification ( not meant as a put down) with regard to the use of the term, passive-aggressive as in

    “passive-aggressive accusation that the Congregation for the Clergy wants to ‘cancel Vatican II completely… .'”

    A direct, unambiguous, overt comment like this is not passive-aggressive.

  59. Why, yes, Cowardly Anonymous Poster, do please continue. You can see some more of my stories from the last month here:

    Workers Plead Guilty in Philadelphia Abortion ‘House of Horrors’ Case: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/plea-deal-in-abortion-case/

    Mark Hart’s Advice for Meeting Teens Where They Are: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/mark-harts-advice-for-meeting-teens-where-they-are/

    Bible 4.0: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/scripture-4.0/

    So that was the substance of your argument? I’m unqualified to comment because I write about games (using my real identity) as well as faith? Very very well done, sir or madam. I’m sure you felt that you dealt some kind of killing blow by making fun of my day job, except my other day job is as a reporter for a national newspaper. My dad was a construction worker. Would you like to mock his opinions because he’s not an “expert” on ministry. Lovely to see the mask ripped off the oh-so-charitable progressives.

  60. Sympathy at the very least — empathy if the situation is familiar — congratulations for bringing a matter of conscience and faith to a conclusion — best wishes for a fulfilling married life — prayers for all.

  61. I would disagree. Using the form of a question to conceal a point being conveyed is pretty clearly passive-aggressive, and a rather shoddy rhetorical trick. The writer is able to make the point and then dodge the consequences by saying, “I didn’t claim they were trying to cancel Vatican II. I’m just asking questions!”

  62. OMG! I just noticed in the picture that the bishop is flanked by two other bishops, rather than by two deacons. Clearly that diocese needs more deacons if they can’t even get two to be with the bishop (as “chaplains” I think it’s called) for an ordination.

  63. Deacon John I think you are right.
    How can a man be trusted to give his word that he will be a faithful husband when he couldn’t keep his word to be faithful to Christ in his original vocation? It’s true that we might be better off without some of these priests who leave. But the hard truth is that many, if not most of them, were simply engaging in activity that they weren’t supposed to.

    [Careful, Ken. You’re tarring some good men with a very broad brush. Dcn. G.]

  64. Such trust is then lacking in conservative icons Reagan, Gingrich, Giuliani, and Limbaugh (and others) who did not keep their word to be a faithful husband to their first wives.

    If their “til death do you part” promise can be excused for valid reasons, then so can a priest’s.

    Admittedly there are liberal icons in the same boat, but the sanctity of marriage is much more a conservative talking point.

    [I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, Jake, since two of the four people you mentioned aren’t even Catholic, and one is a late convert. Dcn. G.]

  65. You just proved Bruce’s impression above by your prayer:
    “The Church needs more men with love in their hearts, men who love their wives and children, to become Deacons.”
    Why do you associate being a deacon with being married?
    They are separate vocations?

  66. Moving deacons would not seem a hardship in Brooklyn, but how about in New York where one end of the diocese is about 4 hours from the other? Because most deacons are married, their ability to serve the diocese rather than the parish is sometimes hindered. This fact must be admitted.

    [Where did I say that it would not be a hardship? The diocese is huge. I live in northern Queens and don’t have a car. Getting to Bay Ridge for me would be a problem. Obviously, geographical obstacles, along with family responsibilities, would have to be taken into consideration, whether in the Arch or in Brooklyn or anywhere else. And the diocese has made clear it won’t reassign anyone without consultation and mutual consent. But in my diocese, and in many others, it’s no longer a given that a man will be assigned to his home parish. Dcn. G.]

  67. Dcn. Kandra, I hope you’ll take time to reply to Jake as you did to Ken (who did make a good point about priests who are laicized and allowed to marry in Church) and explain the Church’s teaching on divorce and remarriage and annulments.
    Why is Jake bringing non-Catholic Republicans into this when the issue is spiritual promises in Church?
    Isn’t Gingrich a convert who received an annulment for previous non-Catholic marriages?
    And Giuliani was told by Cardinal Egan not to present himself for Communion both because his support for abortion and invalid marriage.

    [John…I didn’t see Ken mention anything about laicized priests being allowed to get married in the Church. (Of course, they can.) And I’m as baffled by his bringing up Reagan and others as you are. As for Giuliani: I wasn’t aware that Egan had told him personally not to present himself for Communion. How do you know that? Dcn. G.]

  68. Our bishop already does appoint deacons to assignments outside of their home parishes. In fact, I am one. My guess is that 15% or so are in this situation. The general rule our bishop uses is a 25 mile/ 30 minute drive-time circle. And yes, as Dcn Greg mentioned, it is always with consultation and mutual consent.

    What I have heard is some resentment and resistance to that, not from the deacons/deacon candidates — they already know the rules — but from their sponsoring pastors. That sponsorship requires some financial expense, some time commitment in mentoring, and a lot of “hand-holding.” There is a trust level and personal affection that develops that is difficult to set aside.

    One pastor went so far as to send a letter of complaint to the diocese insisting that the parish’s financial expense in sponsoring a specific candidate be reimbursed. The chancellor, who took the letter to the bishop, was amused; the bishop was not. That pastor’s request was abruptly denied.

  69. You are not seeing the Cathedra in the picture, which is why you are not seeing the 2 deacons to the right and left of the Archbishop, who is also not in the picture. The Cathedra is further to the right of the 3 bishops seen and is out of the frame.

  70. Here is the press release from 2008:

    In part it says:

    Throughout my years as Archbishop of New York, I have repeated this teaching in sermons, articles, addresses, and interviews without hesitation or compromise of any kind. Thus it was that I had an understanding with Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, when I became Archbishop of New York and he was serving as Mayor of New York, that he was not to receive the Eucharist because of his well-known support of abortion.

  71. “Nobody really cares whether they are married or not, though married men lend an added dimension to the deacon’s special (and traditional) role serving as a bridge between the bishop and the rest of the church.”

    Zagano declares it and so it is! I mean come on? “Nobody really cares…” I could say their wives care, to be sarcastic, but in seriousness some people (who Zagano uncharitably ranks as “nobodies”) do seem to have concerns.

    The she implies that celibate deacons cannot fulfill the “special and traditional role” as well as married deacons. So, I guess now we conclude that we need married priests, too? And how about married bishops?

    If anything, Zagano’s article is not about tradition. It is about pushing a certain model of the Church and attacking Rome while doing it.

  72. Mark I agree that Peters is confused about the line between professional and non-professional debate. Although I love his opinion in some areas, he is a loose cannon (oops) when it comes to reliability.

    For example he is not reliable on canon law regarding marriage. Peters states “it is simply not required of Catholic men that they enter only marriages that are sacramental (as opposed to being valid)”. http://www.canonlaw.info/FCSQ%2034.2.pdf

    It is well known even by non-professionals that it IS a requirement that Catholic men marry baptised women, ie enter only sacramental marriages (Can. 1086 ß1). This is not just a requirement for legality but is such an important requirement that the Church refuses to recognize the validity of these marriages if the Catholic does not seek a dispensation from this REQUIREMENT. Of course if this is pointed out Peters will give some misconstrual of the plain meaning of his statement. However the fact is that Peters is not reliable when he makes these distinctions. Peters describes this diriment impediment as “The Church discourages (at least formally) marriages between Catholics and non-baptized persons”. It is a REQUIREMENT that needs to be dispensed for validity, and this dispensation is only granted under certain conditions.

    Peters speaks out on some important issues, but don’t bank on his arguments for accuracy

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