The number of permanent deacons in the United States continues to increase, according to a national survey released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
The Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) conducted the survey of 193 of the 195 U.S. dioceses in April. This marks the seventh CARA survey of the permanent diaconate, an ancient ministry reinstituted by the Second Vatican Council.
The bishops began to ordain permanent deacons for the United States in the early seventies. The ministry emphasizes roles in liturgy, preaching and service. Currently there are more than 18,000 deacons, about 3,000 of them retired. The Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and the Eparchy of St. Thomas-Syro-Malabar in Chicago do not have permanent deacons.
The most recent survey found that the largest numbers of deacons were reported by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston (414), Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey (383), Archdiocese of Los Angeles (344) and Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut (300).
Considering Catholic population in an area, the Latin-rite dioceses with the highest concentration of permanent deacons is Fairbanks, Alaska, with 482 Catholics to every deacon. Other high concentrations are found in Lexington, Kentucky, 657 Catholics for each permanent deacons; Amarillo, Texas, 773 Catholics per deacon; and Rapid City, South Dakota, 803 Catholics per deacon.
Ninety-three percent of active deacons are currently married; four percent are widowers, and two percent never married.
“The statistics are encouraging,” said Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. “But they also alert us to the fact many of the deacons will soon reach retirement age. This suggests a need for bishops to recruit a greater number of men to join the ranks of the permanent diaconate.”
Ninety-five percent of active deacons are at least 50 years old. About a quarter are in their fifties; 43 percent are in their sixties; and 25 percent are 70 or older. Almost 90 percent of dioceses have a minimum age for deacon candidacy and half have a mandatory retirement age. In the U.S. the minimum age for ordination to the permanent deaconate is 35. The average minimum age for acceptance into a diaconate program is 33. Thirteen percent of dioceses have a mandatory retirement age of 70. Eighty percent mandate retirement at 75.
Seventy-eight percent of active deacons are white. Fifteen percent are Hispanic or Latino, Three percent are African American and three percent are Asian.
Many permanent deacons hold jobs outside of the ministry in such areas as sales, law or other work. An estimated 21 percent of active permanent deacons are also compensated for ministry. Some serve in full-time ministry, for example in parishes or diocesan positions. Others are compensated for hospital or prison ministry. A small percentage of deacons are entrusted with full-time pastoral care of a parish and others work in a social services agency.