The ranks of the permanent diaconate swelled in 2022, but more are needed as many approach retirement age.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released their annual report on the state of the nation’s permanent diaconate, with data from 2022. The survey, titled A Portrait of the Permanent Diaconate in 2022: A Study for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.
CARA has collaborated with the USCCB since 2005, when the annual survey began. The data from 2022 was collected from the National Association of Diaconate Directors (NADD) and included deacons from both the Latin and Eastern rites. In total, the survey received responses from 143 of the 183 (arch)dioceses/eparchies whose bishops are members of the USCCB, which is about 78% of the Church in the US.
The data found that there were a total of 13,695 permanent deacons in active ministry in the United States. This is the lowest number of deacons recorded in the nation since 2011. The report notes that diaconate has been in decline in “the last several years,” and that the number of deacons is keeping in line with this trend. It did, however, note that the number of deacons in the Latin rite has remained relatively stable in comparison to the total.
While the numbers have been dwindling, last year marked a time of a surge to their ranks, with 910 men ordained to the permanent diaconate in 2022. This is significant, as it is quite a bit more than the total number of deacons ordained between 2014 and 2021, an estimated 642. A surge to the diaconate is exactly what is needed, as it is estimated that 41% of active deacons are aged 60-69, with a further 36% aged 70 or older. With most dioceses placing the mandatory retirement age for deacons between 70 and 79, as much as 77% of the US permanent diaconate could be retired by around 2040.
The distribution of deacons around the US was hardly uniform, with much higher numbers living in regions of dense populations. The Archdiocese of Chicago has the greatest number of permanent deacons at 868, followed by Galveston-Houston (361), New York (350), Joliet (322), and Rockville Centre (318). Broken down by demographic, 76% are Caucasian/white, 18% are Hispanic/Latino (18%), Asian/Pacific Islander and African American/Black each stand at 3%, and just 1% are Native American/other.
The survey also looked at how parishes utilize their permanent deacons in ministerial positions. Most commonly, deacons are put to work in youth groups or as directors of religious education (22%), but many parishes also have their deacons tending to the pastoral needs of one or more parishes (21%). A further 15% tend to their parish’s administration and finances and 9% take on ministerial duties in hospitals.