WASHINGTON (May 13, 2003) —- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will vote on a comprehensive National Directory that addresses the ministry of the nearly 14,000 permanent deacons in the United States at their General Meeting in St. Louis, June 19-21.
"This is the most comprehensive directory offered yet," said Deacon William T. Ditewig, Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate at the USCCB. "Building upon more than 35 years of experience with the diaconate in the United States, the Directory covers the entire spectrum of formation, ministry and life of deacons."
The proposed Directory, prepared by the bishops' Committee on the Diaconate, treats the human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral formation of permanent deacons, who, together with bishops and priests, comprise the Church's ordained ministry.
"The insights of the proposed Directory will equip this vital and growing ministry in meeting the needs of parishes and spurring on those who are considering this call to serve," said Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Helena, Montana, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee on the Diaconate. Deacons assist at the liturgy, preach the Word, and do charitable work in the name of the Church.
The permanent diaconate was restored by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) to be a "driving force for the Church's service or 'diaconia' toward the local Christian communities, and as a sign of the sacrament of the Lord Christ himself, who 'came not to be served but to serve' (Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter, Ad Pascendum, 1972)." A distinct ministry in the early church, the diaconate devolved by the Middle Ages to a transitional stage en route to ordination to the priesthood. Formally reinstituted by Pope Paul VI in 1967, the permanent diaconate is open to married or single men ages 35 or older. A vital ministry in U.S. dioceses since 1968, the diaconate has grown an average of 10 percent annually. There are 28,238 deacons who serve the Church worldwide, a number which increased 17 percent from 1998 to 2001.
U.S. deacons, 97 percent of whom are married, comprise nearly one-half of the Catholic Church's deacons worldwide.
"In their marriages, workplace, and places of ministry, permanent deacons live out the integrated life of service and worship to which Christ called us," said Bishop Morlino. Nearly all deacons hold full-time jobs in the workplace. In the worship life of the local faith community, deacons assist priests and bishops, preach, baptize, teach, witness marriages, officiate at funerals, and sometimes serve as parish life coordinators in the absence of a priest.
"The proposed Directory will effectively guide and harmonize the diaconate formation programs, which can vary widely from diocese to diocese," said Deacon Ditewig. The Directory provides national directives that will assist dioceses which are preparing, updating, or activating diaconate programs. Active diaconate programs, which currently exist in approximately 140 of the country's 178 Latin dioceses and 9 of the 17 eparchies of the Eastern Catholic Churches, boast an enrollment of 2,800. Diaconate programs also are emerging in more than 20 other Latin and Eastern dioceses, according to Ditewig.
"The increasing numbers of deacons challenges us [bishops] to provide them with the best and most comprehensive formation possible to meet the challenges of the Church in the modern world," said Bishop Morlino.
The current Directory builds upon the original and revised version of Permanent Deacons in the United States: Guidelines on Their Formation and Ministry approved in 1971 and 1984. The proposed National Directory for the Formation, Ministry and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, initially drafted in 1997 by the Bishops'
Committee on the Diaconate, was approved by the U.S. bishops in June, 2000, after which it was sent to the Holy See for review. The present Directory reflects the observations made by the Holy See, and if approved in June, will still require the Holy See's recognitio, or formal approval, before its implementation.
Further information on the deaconate is available at www.usccb.org/deacon.
The USCCB's June meeting opens Thursday, June 19, and continues through Saturday, June 21, at the Hyatt Hotel at Union Station in St. Louis. Media seeking credentials can find information and a form at www.usccb.org/comm. Media applications should be submitted by June 1. For further assistance, contact the Department of Communications (202/541-3200).