The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations has shared the results of the annual survey on the permanent diaconate. A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2019-2020, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) and provides an illustration of the state of the permanent diaconate in the United States, including the number of those ordained and retired in the past year, percentages of those involved in various Church ministries, and other demographic information.
Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations expressed his gratitude for the ministry of permanent deacons in the Church. “Permanent deacons provide an invaluable service to the universal Church. Through their leadership in parish and pastoral ministry, proclamation and preaching of the Gospel, and involvement in corporal and spiritual works of mercy, deacons imitate Christ the Servant by bringing the presence of Jesus to those who are often the most vulnerable in our society.”
With contact information provided by the National Association of Diaconate Directors and CARA’s Catholic Ministry Formation database, CARA contacted the 187 dioceses and eparchies in the United States with an active Office of the Permanent Diaconate. Of this total, 129 responded to the survey for an overall response rate of 69%. Of that total, 71% of responses were from Latin Catholic dioceses and 36% were from Eastern Catholic eparchies. Some of the major findings of the report based on the responding dioceses and eparchies are:
• The dioceses with the largest number of permanent deacons: Chicago (764), Galveston-Houston (478), and New York (355). Adjusting for Catholic population size, Latin Rite dioceses with the lowest ratio of Catholic per permanent deacon include Lexington (481 Catholics to every deacon), Bismarck (690 Catholics per deacon), Rapid City (704 Catholics per deacon), Duluth (708 Catholics per deacon), and Jefferson City (733 Catholics per deacon).
• The 123 Latin Rite dioceses that responded to the survey report a total of 13,810 permanent deacons, both active and non-active. The four eparchies that responded reported a total of 57 permanent deacons. Extrapolating to include the dioceses and eparchies that did not respond to the survey, it can be estimated that there are as many as 19,833 permanent deacons in the United States today.
• Latin Rite dioceses report having 9,935 permanent deacons active in ministry. The four eparchies report 50 active permanent deacons. Extrapolating to include dioceses and eparchies that did not respond to the survey, it can be estimated that there are 14,287 deacons active in ministry in the United States today, or about 72% of all permanent deacons.
• During the 2019 calendar year, 383 new permanent deacons were ordained. At the same time, 334 deacons retired from active ministry and another 289 deacons died. As is the case with priests in the United States, there are not enough new permanent deacons being ordained to make up for the numbers who are retiring from active ministry or dying each year.
• Ninety-five percent of active permanent deacons are at least 50 years old. About a fifth (20%) are in their 50s, four in ten (41%) are in their 60s, and two-fifths (41%) are 70 or older.
• Three-quarters of active deacons (76%) are non-Hispanic whites. Seventeen percent are Hispanic or Latino. Three percent are African American and 4% are Asian or Pacific Islander.
• Among permanent deacons who are financially compensated for ministry:
- 26% are serving in a “parish ministerial position” other than in pastoral care of a parish (Canon 517.2), such as religious education or youth ministry.
- One in eight are entrusted with the pastoral care of one or more parishes (Canon 3 517§2) (13%) or work in parish non-ministerial positions such as administration, business, or finance (12%).
- One in nine works in prison ministry (11%), in a diocesan non-ministerial position (e.g., administration, business, finance) (11%), and in diocesan ministerial position (e.g., religious education, youth ministry) (9%).
- Fewer work in hospital ministry (8%), parochial education (e.g., school teacher, educational administration) (7%), and works in ministry in a social services agency (e.g., Catholic Charities) (4%).