Annual Survey Provides Snapshot of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations has released the results of the study A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate: A Study for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 2021-2022. This annual survey, conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University since 2005, provides a detailed snapshot of the state of the permanent diaconate in the United States. Findings include the percentage of active vs. non-active deacons, the arch/dioceses, and eparchies with the largest number of permanent deacons, sociocultural demographics, ministerial involvement, etc.
Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations expressed the importance of the unique role permanent deacons have in the Catholic Church. “In imitation of Christ the Servant and impelled by the spirit of charity, deacons are entrusted with the unique responsibility of bringing Christ to every corner of society. By virtue of their ordination, deacons witness to Christ in the workplace, within their families, and among the members of their community, especially the poor. The Church is grateful to all permanent deacons who extend Christ’s mercy and healing to all those in need.”
With contact information provided by the National Association of Diaconate Directors and CARA’s Catholic Ministry Formation database, CARA contacted the 183 dioceses and eparchies in the United States that have an active permanent diaconate office and formation program. Of this total, 141 responded to the survey for an overall response rate of 77%. Below are a few of the major findings of the report.
- Responding arch/dioceses with the largest number of permanent deacons include Chicago (804), Los Angeles (498), and Joliet in Illinois (497). Adjusting for Catholic population size, Latin Rite dioceses with the lowest ratio of Catholics per permanent deacon include Lexington (477 Catholics per deacon), Amarillo (547), Rapid City (678), Pueblo (681), and Anchorage (699).
- The 138 Latin Rite arch/dioceses that responded to this question report a total of 16,765 permanent deacons (both active and not active). The three eparchies that responded reported a total of 36 permanent deacons. Extrapolating to include arch/dioceses and arch/eparchies that did not respond to the survey, it can be estimated that there were as many as 20,888 permanent deacons in the United States in 2021-2022.
- Latin Rite arch/dioceses reported having 11,746 permanent deacons active in ministry. The three eparchies reported 31 active permanent deacons. Extrapolating to include arch/dioceses and arch/eparchies that did not respond to the survey, it can be estimated that there are 14,586 deacons active in ministry in the United States in 2021-2022, or about 70% of all permanent deacons.
- During the 2021 calendar year, 458 new permanent deacons were ordained in the responding arch/dioceses. At the same time, 512 deacons retired from active ministry and another 393 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 and dying each year.
- Close to all (95%) active permanent deacons are at least 50 years old. About a fifth (20%) are in their 50s, two-fifths (41%) are in their 60s, and two-fifths (36%) are 70 or older.
- Nine in ten (93%) active permanent deacons are currently married, 4% are widowers and 2% have never been married.
- Seven in ten of active permanent deacons (72%) are non-Hispanic whites. One in five active permanent deacons (21%) are Hispanic or Latino, 3% are Asian or Pacific Islander and 2% are African American.
- Among permanent deacons who are financially compensated for ministry, one in five (19%) is entrusted with the pastoral care of one or more parishes (Canon 517.2). Additionally, one in four (25%) works in other parish ministerial positions (e.g., director of religious education, youth minister) and one in seven (15%) works in parish non-ministerial positions (e.g., administration, business, finance).
The USCCB’s Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations invites the faithful to pray the following prayer to Our Lady in gratitude for the ministry of permanent deacons in the Catholic Church:
Teacher of that service which is hidden, who by your everyday and ordinary life filled with love knew how to cooperate with the salvific plan of God in an exemplary fashion, make deacons good and faithful servants by teaching them the joy of serving the Church with an ardent love.
St. Lawrence, patron of deacons, pray for us.
The full survey conducted by CARA may be accessed here.