The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


Are deacons the new nuns?

posted by jmcgee

That’s the question my friend David Gibson is posing over at dotCommonweal, citing the recent CARA study about the permanent diaconate, which notes that — surprise — deacons usually aren’t paid:

I know deacons have other jobs, or are very often older, retired, and/or have working spouses, or other forms of support. But that level of compensation still seems quite low given the amount of work they they do, at least in my limited experience. Sort of like the religious orders of years past? Is this fair or not fair? Or just the way it is?

Check out the rest of his post for some interesting reaction and comments. What do you think?



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Gerard Nadal

posted June 2, 2010 at 2:21 am


“Are deacons the new nuns?”
All too often, it would appear that the answer is yes. Many of these men are treated as glorified altar boys at Mass. I can’t ever remember a priest allowing the deacon to preach, but then, I’m horrified that preaching faculties aren’t automatically granted at ordination of deacons as they are for priests.
I’ve heard the chauvinistic excuse that many deacons need additional training. This, after a five year course of study and formation! If deacons can do marriage counseling, marriage prep, funeral home visitations, baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.., then I fail to see where they lack competence on ordination day to preach.
Being poorly treated, poorly compensated, and taken for granted was behind a great deal of anti-clericalism on the part of women religious. As the numbers of deacons grow, it would be a good idea if the priests and bishops remembered that you men are also recipients of Holy Orders, and that a real ugliness within the clerical ranks can quickly gain critical mass. Financial compensation and preaching faculties are the leading indicators of just how avuncular and patronizing priests and bishops are behaving in a given diocese. They could equally be the leading indicators of how well-respected the deacons are as well.



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Goodguyex

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:48 am


If deacons are the new nuns then being far more physically powerful than nuns of the past, you might want to go easy on using the rulers; that is, please pull your punches!
I think it is more of a dramatized myth that nuns hurt many people in the past (I saw some slaps and ruler strikes on boys, nobody hurt!)
If deacons do this it may be something else, however!



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Goodguyex

posted June 2, 2010 at 5:53 am


Gerald, I have seen deacons deliver homilies at Mass, after getting a blessing from the priest-celebrant. Not often, but I have seen it.
[Goodguy...which diocese do you live in? I preach every Sunday, sometimes at multiple masses. Plus weddings. Baptisms. Wakes. This is fairly common here in Brooklyn, where deacons study at least three semesters of homiletics while in formation and receive the faculty to preach when they are ordained. Dcn. G.]



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Deacon Norb

posted June 2, 2010 at 7:29 am


Hmmm
I’m just guessing here that I preach a minimum of five times a month. I preach at all the Weddings I do; I preach at all the funerals I do; I preach at all the Communion Services and Benedictions I do; and I am on my parish’s preaching rotation for one week-end a month (three masses)
In May 2010, I had one baptism where I preached, a weekend where I preached at all three of the masses in my parish, one funeral where I presided and preached, and a week-day mass at a Retreat Center where I was staying that I also preached at.
NOW, do some math: five times a month average for my 32 years as a deacon rings up just over 1,900 homilies.



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Gerard Nadal

posted June 2, 2010 at 8:04 am


Wow! I need to move back to Brooklyn. In my diocese, I’ve only heard two deacons preach, ever!



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oldestof9

posted June 2, 2010 at 8:17 am


A high percentage of deacons in the Erie diocese preach AT LEAST once a month if not more. We were granted that faculty right out of the gate.
As for the pay…the “Calling” doesn’t require pay. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be appreciated, but I won’t/ wouldn’t lobby for it.
PEace to all



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Fr. Jim

posted June 2, 2010 at 8:26 am


The idea of deacons not preaching is rather foreign to me. Ordained almost 20 years, and having deacons in every parish in which I served, deacons were scheduled, at a minimum, once a month at Sunday Mass plus – as the good deacon above pointed out – at other services such as baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.
While it may be said in the early days of the diaconate candidates didn’t receive the training they do today, my experience is that overall our deacons do a fine job in the pulpit.
In many ways one might say that are right there with the priests and bishops. Some give wonderful homilies, others not so much. Of course, it’s all pretty subjective because in my experience different homilists connect with different people.
Regarding compensation, I’m not sure that’s so universal. I have one deacon who receives a monthly stipend and is super-involved not just with sacramental duties but also evangelization and adult education programs. At another parish the deacon served as a part-time pastoral associate and helped with some administrative as well as sacramental duties.
I wouldn’t say that deacons are the new nuns. Rather, they seem to be becoming the new “associate pastors” as there are fewer priests. Personally, I’d like to see them just be DEACONS, not nuns, priests, or anything else. Proper respect for their order in and of itself is what we need to move towards rather than trying to measure them against others.



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Conservative

posted June 2, 2010 at 8:38 am


In the Archdiocese of NY it seems pretty rare to have a deacon preach at Sunday mass. They do not receive automatic faculties. I don’t know why the priest would not give the homily and sit there while a deacon preaches at a Sunday mass.



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Mary

posted June 2, 2010 at 9:57 am


Both our deacons preach once a month along with all else they do. I don’t read David Gibson so I don’t know what he exactly wrote. I don’t read him because I really don’t think he is very deep in his analysis or what he has to say about the church. He seems to like to stir up the crowd. You have identified him as your friend so you see something more and I’m reavealing my bias as I write. If you think not getting paid in the church means less status and power in the church, then you are like nuns. If you think that not getting paid in the church means service to us all, including the Father and his Son and your reward comes in the salvation of souls, then you are like many nuns, although not all. I suppose it’s all which cup you see in front of you. Status, payment and power should not be the rewards anyone in the Church, including priests and bishops should be seeking. To analyze oneself and one’s worth by those criteria is to sell oneself short.



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Rusty T

posted June 2, 2010 at 10:04 am


Aren’t deacons subject to years of preparation? They are not unaware of what will be required of them, and the “compensation” they’ll receive.



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Deacon Mike

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:02 am


This article again points out the overall lack of understanding about Permanent Deacons. If formation is consistent across the United States (as envisioned by the USCCB) every newly ordained Permanent Deacon knows what is expected of him and what compensation is available. In my case, in an Archdiocese still reeling from Katrina and now the Gulf oil crisis there is no money with which to compensate. I travel 90 miles roundtrip to my prison. I travel 150 miles roundtrip to classes I assist with. Never sought and was never promised compensation. And I preach frequently as do most of our Deacons. Every now and again we hear of a parish Priest who tells a Deacon cant preach in my parish. But that’s for the director of our program to handle. Finally, Catholics need to understand that in seeing the Deacon on the altar, preaching, etc. is a small part of our ministry. If the Deacon is not active in ministry (prison, hospital, etc) he does demonstrate the charism of the Deacon. And it’s never about what we do anyway; it’s who we are and the sign of Christ the Servant.



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Bill

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:04 am


Dear “Conservative” et al.,
Just for clarification: the same canon that extends the faculty to presbyters does the same for deacons. In other words, the faculty for deacons to preach comes from the law itself, not from the bishop. So, that means if the deacon is NOT to preach, the bishop has to restrict that faculty in some way.
The norm around the world is that deacons preach with some regularity; as many of the deacons here have noted, most of us preach frequently. I preach at least two Masses every weekend, for example.
As to your question about why a priest who sit back and have the deacon preach, that’s pretty simple: Father needs to be “fed” as well. Many times I’ve had priests respond about how wonderful it is for them simply to be ministered to at that point rather than ALWAYS being the one ministering.
God bless,
Bill Ditewig



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Gerard Nadal

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:19 am


Conservative,
I’m in the Archdiocese of NY as well. I find it refreshing that we seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.



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Deacon Tom

posted June 2, 2010 at 11:41 am


Gibson’s question about deacons being the new nuns deserves examination. It is probably fair to say that the average Catholic has no idea of the extent of service that deacons provide in both formal ministry and in the throes of daily living. While men do not enter the diaconate seeking compensation, providing stipends to them through the parish or diocese would would force recognition of their work and add value to the ministry. The old adage rings true: you only appreciate what you pay for.



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Irene

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm


First off I applaud deacons in the church and think that their contribution is and will be very important for the future. I think they will bring an understanding as married individuals that priests can not.
I feel that the title of this post is very sad but a true commentary on how we have taken advantage of so many nuns in the past. Many of them have no retirement, no housing, and no ability to provide for many of their basic needs. The church definitely did not take care of its own and allowed them to be taken advantage over the years. One nun came to do an appeal for their order and said that many were paid by their parish $10 – $100 a month. This also represents once again the marginalization of women and their role in church and the work they do without the title of priest. As I stated, I think deacons play a great role in the church but this push for deacons once again removes women (religious or lay) from roles within the church that will ultimately only hurt it. It also causes people with a calling to have to live in relative poverty to serve. That is very sad.



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Deacon Necessary

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm


There have been times in my life that I have seen deacons treated as “the new nuns.”
However, I am blessed to have a bishop who supports and encourages his deacons to practice their ministry to the fullest. He refers to the clergy as “my brother priests and deacons.”
And as for preaching, I used to preach at Sunday Mass several times a month. But now, I have a rector who thinks deacons should preach maybe one Sunday a month…



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Conservative

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:37 pm


“It also causes people with a calling to have to live in relative poverty to serve. That is very sad.”
True years ago when most nuns taught in Catholic schools, they were paid very little. Now they are paid just like any other teacher plus medical benefits. Not to mention many who are living in apartments get allowances from their order. Not as sad today as you would like us to think.



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Your Name

posted June 2, 2010 at 6:39 pm


Gerard wrote: I find it refreshing that we seem to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Can’t say that I find it refreshing. I would much rather listen to a priest who spent four years in training. Many of the deacons of the early classes had minimal training at best. Of course there are exceptions.



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Bill

posted June 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm


Dear “Your Name”,
You can relax. Most deacons spend at least four years in formation now (some considerably more than that) and 28 percent have graduate degrees, often in Theology. In fact, in many cases, deacons have actually had MORE formation than priests. It has only been fairly recently that seminarians received graduate degrees. They simply attended four years of graduate theology without taking a degree.
In addition, those deacons WITHOUT degrees in theology often have degrees in other fields that are no less relevant to ministry, PLUS they have a lifetime of experience that is no less appropriate to ministry.
In terms of formation, today’s deacons go through a process that is a world apart from the formation of the first decade or so (the 1970s).
For what it’s worth, for example, I spent eight years in seminary (high school and college), left the seminary, married, joined the Navy, served 22 years as a Hebrew and later Russian linguist and senior officer in command of a base on Okinawa. During that time, my wife and I raised four children, moved 17 times, and in my off-duty time I picked up an MA in Education, another MA in Theology, and the Ph.D. in Theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC while I was going through formation for the diaconate at the same time. My last three years in the Navy (in command of a base) were my first three years as a deacon, and once I left the Navy, I’ve been serving in various ministries ranging from Director of Pastoral Services in two different dioceses, director of the diaconate for an archdiocese on the East Coast, and five years on the staff of the USCCB.
In fact, I am happy to report that there are a number of deacon-Ph.D.s like myself who TEACH those same seminarians their theology.
So, bottom line: Priests and deacons are a team, both working under the leadership of the bishop for the good of the People of God.
Hope that helps a bit!
God bless,
Bill



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Deacon Necessary

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:01 am


Go Bill!



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Conservative

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:13 am


As I said, there are exceptions. In the beginning of the diaconate program in NYC there was minimal training–2 nights a week, no papers etc. Many had not even finished high school. Few had college degrees. In my experience many lay people do not want to listen to deacons giving the homily at Sunday mass. In may differ in other areas. Some even when marrying at a ceremony do not want deacons to witness their marriage. There is still a great lack of education on what deacons can do and exactly what their role is. Some are shocked to hear that deacons can baptize!



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Deacon Norb

posted June 3, 2010 at 9:34 pm


Hmmm — again.
To answer “Conservative”:
–Over the next twenty-six months (from now until July 2011), I have NINE weddings on my list at the parish. During that period, my priest pastor has two and one visiting priest has another. That’s 3/1.
–In my parish, my priest/pastor and I alternate months for formal baptisms. So — under ideal situations –the ratio is 50/50. We DO NOT normally do baptisms at Mass except on Holy Saturday.
Perhaps it is territorial as you suggested — but by diocese. But then again, so much of church structure is just that.
To continue; I have a PhD and have done post-doctoral work (in a major European University on the very roots of the Bible in English), AND I have been a deacon along time!
Let’s give the Holy Spirit of God the credit to bringing talented married men into the clerical ministry



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Goodguyex

posted June 4, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Deacon Greg, when in the United States I am in the Diocese of Lafayette,Louisiana. I now live and work abroad in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in the oil and gas industry for a large French contractor.



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Fr. Jim

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:42 pm


Dear Bill,
Just to be clear regarding priestly formation: The “four years” of formation normally takes place after college (and now five years is more the norm with mandatory pre-theology studies)and going back many, many years I can’t find a priest who didn’t receive a graduate degree in theology – the Masters of Divinity being the typical degree.
Also, deacon formation spans four years as a norm, possibly more, but is not akin to seminary formation which is a full-time venture with a full academic workload. That’s not to minimize the quality of formation deacons have. In my mind deacon candidates are being formed as deacons, not as priests, so there are going to be major differences.
Also, diaconal ministry is not rooted in service at the altar, although that’s part of it. In our archdiocese the expectation is that no deacon functions only in a liturgical manner. If that was all there was do being a deacon, then they indeed could be accuse of being “glorified altar boys.”
So, while preaching is part of a deacon’s ministry, it’s not central in the same way it is in the life of the priest. The priest is the “usual” homilist. My experience is that the regularly that deacons preach on weekends has to do with number of deacons assigned in a parish as well as number of weekend masses celebrated in a parish.



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George Mason

posted June 9, 2010 at 2:14 pm


One thing I find strange is that in these comments it is assumed that a deacn should be preaching at the “Eucharistic Liturgy.” While many deacons do receive faculties for this, it is not the norm of Tradition of either East or West.
The diaconal faculty to preach was in non-Eucharistic gatherings. Deacons preached at Mass or Benedictions only as extraordinary ministers just as under the old canon law they distributed the Corpus Domini as extraordinary ministers.
This was not a way to disparage deacons, but emphasize the different sphere of ministry. The priest and bishops (as high priests) offer the sacrifice and feed as pastors. Deacons assist and serve. It is not a matter of power but of propriety. Sacred Orders are hierarchical. Lower orders step in, if possible, only when the higher are lacking. (That’s why a priest does not preside at Mass when a bishop is present…nor should the priest preach since the bishop is the chief teacher of the diocese!)
That said, present practice allows deacons to preach in the presence of priests (since the priest is chief teacher in the parish).
One of the problems is that there is no direction on when and how frequently it is appropriate for deacons to preach. The goal is not to make a competition between priests and deacons as to who’s better or more educated. In fact, I don’t think a degree makes a good preacher. While education helps form and substance, I’ve heard some very educated clergy give horrible homilies. The truths of the authetic Catholic faith are simple. That’s what should be preached.
Finally, in the Latin and Eastern traditions until recently it was rare to have deacons baptize or witness marriages. I know priests who greatly appreciate the fact that deacons can do so, but it does encourage untraditional disorder when, e.g., a couple asks the deacon to receive their vows and preach at their wedding Mass. And in fact, it is an ecumenical obstacle with the East since the East regards the priestly blessing as necessary for the marriage.



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