The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


Deacons today: “Please don’t call me Father…”

posted by jmcgee
deacon-ordination-2010.jpg
U.S. Catholic has a nice, long look at the diaconate in its December issue — and a few familiar names pop up:

Beverly Hills, California deacon and author Eric Stoltz often finds himself uttering the phrase, “Please don’t call me Father.”

Besides that gentle correction to well-meaning parishioners, Stoltz also uses the first five minutes of new baptism classes he leads to explain to his captive audience what a permanent deacon like himself does.

It’s not just Stoltz’s parish that could use more education on the diaconate. As the number of permanent deacons continues to rise across the United States, more Catholics are asking, “What exactly does a deacon do?”

Some Catholics think deacons can hear confessions, anoint the sick, and preside at Mass if a priest is unavailable, acting as kind of a substitute priest-all false. Others wonder why a man would choose to be a permanent deacon rather than a priest. Well, for one thing, a deacon can be married.

But some deacons–about 2 percent–are not married, and Stoltz is one of them. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘Well, you’re not married so why don’t you just go all the way?’ And I say, ‘Oh, you mean bishop?’?” he laughs. “I explain to them that I don’t have the vocation to be a priest.”

But why be a deacon? Joseph M. Donadieu of the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, who was already involved and active in his parish, faced that question. When Msgr. James P. McManimon, who started the permanent diaconate program in Trenton, asked him to consider the ministry, Donadieu asked McManimon what the difference was between an active layperson and a deacon. He received a simple response: “The grace of the sacrament.”

The 2010 figures released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in May show that the ministry has taken a firm hold in the United States; here deacons account for a projected 17,047, or 46 percent, of the worldwide total of 37,203.

Brooklyn Deacon Greg Kandra, who writes about the diaconate on his Beliefnet.com blog “The Deacon’s Bench,” says that the reestablishment of the permanent diaconate after 1,200-plus years of inactivity was one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the Second Vatican Council.

“It’s a vocation that has just exploded,” says Kandra. “The day is fast approaching when the most familiar face in a parish could be a married man with children–the deacon.”

While references to deacons can be found in early church records, by the 20th century their role had faded from a full-time ministry to a mere transitional step on the path to the priesthood.

Reviving the permanent diaconate, a ministry in which deacons do not later become priests, was a hot topic at the Second Vatican Council.

“The bishops of the council saw [it] as a way of extending the ministry of the bishop in areas of society that the priests couldn’t get to,” says Deacon William Ditewig, past executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ formerly named Secretariat for the Diaconate. The permanent deacon would be an ordained minister working in the everyday world.

Read on.



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Byzantine Steve

posted November 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm


Interesting to note, but in the Christian East the title “Father Deacon” is not unusual.



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Mark Duch

posted November 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm


Echoing what Steve said, Byzantine Catholics and the Orthodox churches often refer to deacons as “Father Deacon.”



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm


I once had someone after mass address me as “Monsignor.” They thought I was the pastor.
I laughed. “Please,” I said, “don’t make it worse than it already is…!” :-)
DGK



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Commander Craig

posted November 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm


Don’t call me Father? Heck, it’s bad enough having to go through life with people thinking you were the kid in “Mask”.



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Deacon Norb

posted November 23, 2010 at 5:11 pm


Yes, I have been called “Father” before but since I do not wear a “collar,” it is very – very rare: usually with visitors to my parish.
Something to consider, however, is how many deacons does a parish really need?
I’ve asked that question all over the country and the answer seems to depend on three things: (1) How BIG is your parish; (2)How healthy and active and young is your priest/pastor; and (3) Does your parish have any priest who serves as an assistant pastor (either just out of the seminary) or maybe a “retired” priest in-residence.
My contention is that a parish needs an independent priest/pastor at 2,500 “head-count” and an active deacon (or assistant pastor of any age) for every 1,000 (or portion of that figure)additionally. My parish of slightly under 4,000 needs two deacons on top of the priest/pastor. It does not have that.
Down the pike about an hour is a parish that sits at slightly over 10,000 “head-count.” One priest/pastor; one “rookie” priest as assistant pastor; and three active deacons. It really needs 2-3 more clergy using that formula.
Bottom line; our wider church needs more deacons than it needs priests.



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deacondog

posted November 23, 2010 at 5:36 pm


I like to quote Arch Chaput on this matter. There is nothing wrong with calling a deacon Father, I paraphrase. Deacon’s are in a role of being a Father spiritually to parishoners like a pastor or vicar.
Many people call me Father all the time and I do not correct them. What am I to say? Excuse me ma’am. I am only a deacon. So please call me deacon or Frank ??



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Dantenuovo

posted November 23, 2010 at 7:39 pm


It is interesting to note that reputable historical writings on the diaconate refer to the spiritual fatherhood and shepherd roles of a deacon…references so often associated with priest or bishop. This would be an excellent theme for research and writing for the life of the Church.



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Deacon Brian

posted November 24, 2010 at 5:15 am


When addressed as “Father” I usually respond “I earned that title the old-fashioned way.”



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Rev.A.R.Smith

posted November 24, 2010 at 9:44 am


Jesus told all to not call any man Father, for we have only one Father who is in Heaven. This practice must stop, The Pope is not a Holy father.



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HMS

posted November 24, 2010 at 9:54 am


Deacon Norb, you have hit a nerve. So I would like to offer a fourth consideration to your list of deacon parish placements.
I know perhaps 20 or so deacons personally. I have always been baffled by the placement of their ministries. Most are either in their home parishes or in large middle, upper middle class parishes where they may give a homily or preside at Baptisms and weddings. (A lot of the other ministries, RCIA, etc., could be done by lay ecclesial ministers.)
The real need is in poor inner city parishes. What a golden opportunity for service!
With respect to title, I would like hear a deacon called what they are have been called to be, that is, “servant.”



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Deacon Norb

posted November 24, 2010 at 10:48 am


Replying to HMS (and maybe Deacon Bill can jump in as well):
–The assignment of a deacon to any ministry/parish is strictly at the discretion of his local bishop. PERIOD!
–Most, if not all, bishops understand that such an assignment has to be tempered by where that deacon and his family resides. As a rule of thumb, many bishops seem to follow a 20 miles/thirty minutes driving radius for such an assignment. There are exceptions but not many in our area of the Midwest.
–Some deacons are assigned to their home parish but they do not have to be. In our diocese, we have several parishes that are jokingly called “deacon-factories” because so many men have surfaced from those congregations who go on to be ordained. In particular, I know of one local parish that had TEN men ordained as deacons over the 35+ years that the ministry has been restored. That situation is also repeated in several other parishes in my diocese as well.
–Some dioceses have the same terms of assignments for both priests and deacons. Currently, in many of them, six-years is a normative term for both priests and deacons and the bishop can transfer them to a different parish. That is also his choice.
–Now specifically to your issue about deacons being assigned/not-assigned to inner-city parishes. Consider: (1) A great deal of that situation is likely the local bishop’s choice; (2) Many inner city parishes are losing members due to the dying off of the Ellis Island immigrant base and the failure to attract the mostly minority families who replace those Ellis Island great-grandparents in those neighborhoods; and (3) We do not ever get enough men from within those inner-city parishes to even consider applying for the diaconate because “conventional wisdom” has scared them off — they have been told by so many pew-sitting laity that a deacon has to be college-educated that they are afraid to even apply.
–Finally, different bishops have different ideas here. I have served under three local bishops and each had a totally different philosophy about assigning deacons to parishes. All of us have learned to “go with the flow.”



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HMS

posted November 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm


Deacon Norb,
Thank you for your comprehensive response to my post. Although I am aware that the deacons are assigned by the bishop of the diocese, I still wonder how necessary they in the churches where they are assigned. (By the way, you probably are aware that Cardinal Spellman was against the restoration of the permanent diaconate at Vatican II. He is alleged to have said that he was against it because it is not necessary.)
I realize that many deacons also have full-time jobs, so they cannot engage in full-time church ministry. I also know that not all pastors want deacons. (In addition, I am acquainted with one bishop who thinks that the diaconate undermines lay ministry.)
I guess that those of you who are part of the diaconate have struggled with this issue more than I…and rightfully so.



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Deacon Norb

posted November 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm


Following-up on HMS:
“(By the way, you probably are aware that Cardinal Spellman was against the restoration of the permanent diaconate at Vatican II. He is alleged to have said that he was against it because it is not necessary.)”
In several countries of the world, this attitude is still prevalent. In Poland, for instance, they hardly have a priest shortage at all and — as a result — a lot of the folks there insist that deacons are not necessary. That is an extremely limited vision of what the deacon is all about. That vision is being challenged, however, by a few more innovative and prophetic voices in that country that insist that the deacon’s natural abilities to work and minister in secular society may well be its best feature. The European Union is forcing Poland to become more secular quicker than it wants and so the bishops there are looking for deacons not as a “servant-ministry” but as a highly effective bridge from the secular world and the religious one. They are hand-picking their deacon candidates from among the upper class intelligensia who are widely respected in their secular fields. Those deacons will then have a level of secular credibility that many bishops do not have.
“I realize that many deacons also have full-time jobs, so they cannot engage in full-time church ministry. I also know that not all pastors want deacons.”
That is changing. If the bishop makes it a point to insist that every parish needs a deacon, whether the pastor wants one or not may not be relevant. The longer the diaconate is in place, the more likely new priestly seminarians will have grown up in a parish where a permanently ordained deacon has ministered.
“(In addition, I am acquainted with one bishop who thinks that the diaconate undermines lay ministry.)”
There was one bishop who took the position that he was not going to ordain men as deacons at all until the Vatican allowed women to be ordained as deacons as well. Needless to say, a lot of us thought he was “cutting off his nose to spite his face.” He has long since retired and may even have gone on to his eternal reward.
One other bishop I knew, who has also died, insisted that any applicant for the diaconate in his diocese had to have already completed at least two years in his very successful diocesan lay-ministry formation program FIRST. Those folks jokingly called it “The Deacons Prep-School.” It did drag the diaconal formation program a bit but it sure helped those men get their feet wet.



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Deacon Bill

posted November 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm


Dear HMS, and any others interested:
Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles once wrote that he dreamed of a day where every parish had seven deacons (sort of a biblical thing, you see)!
Deacons are diocesan ministers who often serve in parishes; JUST LIKE PRIESTS. They are not parish ministers any more than priests are. So, some points:
1) Increasingly, bishops are realizing that pastors should not pay for a deacon candidate’s formation; “he who pays, buys”. I even have a “deacon buy back” story recounted to me by a young bishop, who eventually reimbursed all of his pastors for the costs they incurred for diaconal formation. His comment to the pastors was that the deacons were HIS, and not the pastor’s. Whenever a bishop would call me at the USCCB to talk about funding the diaconate formation process, my first caution was that the pastors must NOT pay for formation, any more than pastors pay for a seminarian’s formation.
2)Today, 2/3 of all deacons in the US have a DUAL assignment: one to a parish and another to a ministry that is regional, institutional, or diocesan-wide. This is a conscious attempt by bishops to help communicate to all that deacons serve THROUGHOUT the diocese and not simply to a parish.
3) I agree with you, HMS, that one of our problems today, and it’s a good problem to have, is the proper distribution of deacons. You are absolutely correct that deacons should be assigned based on the needs they can help to meet, and not simply because it is their “parish of origin.”
We’re working at it. . . .
Gdo bless,
Bill



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Deacon Bill

posted November 24, 2010 at 3:59 pm


PS to my last:
Perhaps my brother Eric Stotlz (in the article in question) doesn’t want to be called, “Father.” No deacon at all wants to be confused with being a priest. I get called “Father” all the time after Mass, simply because I’m vested and people rather assume that anyone in vestments is a priest. Fair enough.
Personal reaction: I’ve been a deacon for more than 20 years now. In the first few years following ordination, I used to do what Eric does, “Please don’t call me Father.” As the years have gone by, unless there’s a particular reason to do otherwise, I tend to let it go. After all, I AM a father (as someone wrote above, “the old-fashioned way”), and even more to the point, deacons DO share in the servant-leadership of the community, NOT as pastors, but as servants. In fact, the US bishops had a long conversation during the preparation of the National Directory on the diaconate about perhaps having Latin church deacons use the same title as our Eastern catholic deacon-brothers use: “Father Deacon.” Works for me.
I just wouldn’t (and don’t) worry about such insignificant things anymore.
God bless,
Bill



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted November 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm


I get people calling me “Father” all the time, too, and I’ve stopped correcting them — unless they want me to hear their confession :-)
Dcn. G.



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Trevor

posted November 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm


Dcns Greg, Bill, and Norb,
Thank you for the edifying post and comments. Although I am only married one year, and still in school to become a teacher (so I am excluded for a number of years yet to enter formation), there have been times I have felt called to the diaconate.
This post and comments were very helpful in regards to (besides proclaiming the Gospel at the Mass), what a deacon will do on a regular basis for the parish and diocese.



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Deacon Norb

posted November 26, 2010 at 6:37 am


Trevor:
Only the very best of blessings to you in your continued discernment. Here are some additional ideas I will offer:
–Many years ago, a very wise priest said something like this to his deacon candidates: “Imagine yourself already ordained and looking out at your typical congregation on Sunday from your parish’s pulpit. Those 500 or so folks are a snapshot of the wider Catholic community. You will find folks who are hard-right theologically and hard-left theologically; you will find illiterate folks and other folks with earned doctorates; you will find pre-schoolers and folks who are in their 90′s and older; folks who are comfortable with spontaneous prayer and folks who think the Rosary is God’s only prayer. You — as a deacon — have to be a “Jesus-experience” to them ALL! It makes no difference if you believe that Vatican II did not go far enough; you still have to be a “Jesus Experience” to the “Tridentine” crowd! the opposite is also true; you may be a hard core conservative in your own personal theology, but you still have to minister to those folks who pray by ‘speaking-in-tongues’”. My first piece of advice to you: Do not look at the diaconate as the way to shape the church into YOUR OWN image and likeness.
–I have often called the deacon a “fully-indigenous-minister-in-the-marketplace.” Your secular profession is a very large part of who you are and if/when you are ordained, your diaconate will be also. Those two forces need to be integrated within your personality. Just two examples here: (1) The Catholic Campus Ministry Association identifies fifty deacons among their membership; some (but certainly not all) are “Professor-Deacons”; and (2) The United Auto Workers has had a “line-worker-chaplaincy” program in place for years. I personally know two deacons who are part of that system.
–Finally; remember that in the early medieval church, the deacon was the traditional “almsgiver.” Thus, modern deacons need to be totally dedicated to the concept of the “preferential option for the poor” and the disenfranchised and marginalized in our society. I know of several men who were looking at becoming deacons but who dropped the idea completely when they realized that the secular power and wealth they had accumulated as successful businessmen was not something the church considered important at all. What the church really wanted was an attitude of detachment to worldly wealth that was totally foreign to them.
Greg, Bill and I will certainly pray for your discernment.



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Ted

posted November 26, 2010 at 7:46 am


Deacons are NOT Priests, and should not be called “Father”. They are not “Persona Christi” – and thus can not say Mass nor hear Confessions.
For accurate information on Deacons, please see the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” which was first printed in the US in March 2000 (dark green cover.” #1569-1571.
“Deacon” is the proper title that should be used.
If someone is confused, rather than perpetuate an error, it is best to politly correct them.



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HMS

posted December 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm


Deacon Norb:
Re:
“There was one bishop who took the position that he was not going to ordain men as deacons at all until the Vatican allowed women to be ordained as deacons as well. Needless to say, a lot of us thought he was “cutting off his nose to spite his face.” He has long since retired and may even have gone on to his eternal reward.”
If I have the right bishop about whom you are referring: (He was from Brooklyn and was in the Diocese of St. Augustine).
I saw and greeted him on a plane over the Thanksgiving holidays. He is still with us – looking well and fit.



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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted December 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm


Perhaps there was more than one bishop who felt that way.
The late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw reportedly refused to ordain deacons until the Vatican would allow them to include women.
Dcn. G.



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Deacon Norb

posted December 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm


I was not referring to either of them. I was talking about Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle. I just found out, however, he is very much alive.



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HMS

posted December 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm


Well,there are more bishops (prophets) who think this way about the diaconate for women than I thought.
“Prophets are respected everywhere except in their own hometown and by their relatives and their family.” (Mark 6:4-6, Good News Translation)



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