Why aren't there more permanent celibate deacons when the ministry is distinct from the priesthood?


Hello Everyone,

I’m wondering why this is so? According to statistics, only 2% of men enter the diaconate as celibate, the rest-98% are married.

The main role of the priest is to help his congregation grow more spiritually closer to God and to better love God and neighbor.

The main role of the deacon, is to reach out to the downtrodden, the sick, the poor, etc. and help them live better lives and bring the Gospel of Christ to them.

I myself, am pursuing the diaconate as a celibate. Although I hold a secular job now, I plan on getting a full-time church related career in chaplaincy or something of that nature.

No disrespect to any married deacons or priests, I’m just trying to figure out why this phenomenon is.


I am also discerning God’s plan for my ministry, whether as a lay person or otherwise, as a single man. You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.


Because single men tend to discern the priesthood, but, in the Latin rite, married men are limited to the diaconate?


Maybe they feel called to marriage? And maybe most celibate guys go for priesthood or enter a religious community? There is nothing wrong with being married or celibate. :shrug:


Hmm… that would be a difficult question to track down: you’d have to find single men who considered the diaconate but later discerned either a call to the priesthood or discerned that they weren’t called to ordained life.

Although I hold a secular job now, I plan on getting a full-time church related career in chaplaincy or something of that nature.

Hmm… when you say ‘chaplaincy’, what do you mean? A career as a military chaplain? As a hospital chaplain?


I suspect it is merely a question of demographics. You have to be at 35 years old to be ordained a deacon. What percentage of men over 35 are still unmarried versus what percent are married?


I wonder if the reason in some cases may not be that those who vow to be celibate choose to try and become ordained priests, instead of permanent deacons. A priest is a deacon first, but remains celibate. If a deacon is to remain celibate, why not go the next step to the priesthood if able and called to do so? It seems to me a fairly logical reason why so few permanent deacons are celibate men.


This should not be so.

The diaconate is a separate and unique vocation in-and-of itself apart from the priesthood. It is not a lite version of the priesthood for married men or a booby prize for men who missed their calling early in life.

Celibacy is a call by God to have an undivided heart, to give your entire being to God as an oblation. It is a requirement for the priesthood but the reason there are so few celibate deacons is as SMOM said, because there are so few celibate men over 35 years of age.



I agree it should not be so, but the reality could be that. Or it could be the celibate called to the diaconate might like the idea of still being out in the secular world and not full time in parish life. That is also a possible reason. I guess I would like for one of the 2% of celibate permanent deacons to chime in if they are able.


My thought is that if the person feels they can be celibate, they become a priest instead of a Deacon?
But those who feel being celibate is not right for them look more toward being a deacon.



I think this is a great question and would love to know as well. I think DaddyGirl is right from a practical standpoint, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be decided on that basis. I may be wrong.


Wow, I gotta say I’m kinda offended by most of these posts. They imply that I am deacon only because I didn’t want to be (or wasn’t capable of being, or wasn’t strong enough to be) celibate.

In fact I never, not ever, not even a little bit, felt called to the priesthood. NEVER. Celibacy had nothing to do with it.

The calling to the diaconate and the calling to the priesthood are two seperate and very different callings. Deacons are NOT “priests lite”.

I think the Holy Spirit might have a little something to do with the reasons that are responsive to the OP.


Whoah, sorry about that, I didn’t read DaddyGirl’s post correctly. I do not think it is a matter of willpower in the slightest.

My point about what happens as a practical matter is that people who are called to marriage or who are married won’t be called to the priesthood as they are exclusive, however that doesn’t explain anything about the call to become a deacon. I think we could all benefit from more knowledge about the vocation.


As an aspirant, I agree with this comment. I never felt a calling to the priesthood. I do feel a calling to be a Deacon. They are indeed two different callings.



I think people in this thread are hoping to learn more about that, can you share with us about the calling to the diaconate?


In a nutshell, the Priest functions in the person of Christ the Head of the Church. Deacons function as Christ the Servant, who came not to be served but to serve. I, like many others who are Deacons, have felt a need through the years to provide service to the Church and to our Parish through many of the ministries that are available. This, combined with my praying and listening to the Holy Spirit, has led me to discern becoming a Deacon. I am doing this to answer the call of our Lord to serve, and not for any personal glory or need for attention.



I think some valid points have been made, especially about the fact a deacon must be at least 35 years old upon ordination. Given that fact, it would only be for men who had a call later in life, say at 29 or 30. But, those same men could also consider the priesthood.

I think another reason why there are so few permanent celibate deacons is that generally speaking, the diaconate is a part-time ministry,(that’s not to say that one ceases to be a deacon when their not doing their diaconal duties), but maybe a single man would not think that pursuing the diaconate would be worth it, if it’s only part time.

I myself, and going to try to devote my life as much as I can to the church, and that is why I am going to probably get a full-time job as a hospital chaplain.

The church really needs to promote this idea of full-time ministry for the diaconate. If the church did this, I guarantee there’d be more callings to the diaconate from single men. If they also lowered the age of ordination, there’s no doubt that there would be more callings to the diaconate from single celibate men.


You make some excellent points about part versus full time ministry for the diaconate. I believe, though, there are quite a few full time deacons out there but that they are likely older and retired. At least, that is what I’ve read on some blogs. Other than that, it is simply wonderful we have the diaconate restored to what it was centuries ago. It’s such a blessing for the Church.


I share in Dcn. Jeff’s frustration. There is so much misunderstanding and ignorance of what the diaconate is and who the deacon is in this thread. I think much of the ignorance is simple to explain, in comparison to the age of Mother Church, the diaconate is very old, see the Acts of the Apostles; actually you see in Scripture that Deacons were placed into ministry before the “presbyterite” or what we know of the current day priesthood. There were bishops, the Apostles, then there was a need for “servers”, diakonia or deacons. From that seven were chose and hands were layed on them to ordain them to sacramental service.

However, for 1500 years or so until Vatican II the permanent diaconate was suppressed. So only from the early 70’s have we actually seen ordained men serving at Mass and working in the service of the people of God. This is very, very young as a sacred order restored for us to try to understand. We as a sacred order are still learning how we should be used and how we should act and what is expected of us.

The Chancellor for our diocese is a deacon who was ordained in the second class of deacons after the reinstatement of the PD and his opinion is that it will take at least 100 years before we see the restored diaconate find its rightful place in the Church and in society. He is a national leader for the diaconate and was involved in the writing of the book which covers all of diaconate formation and life which is approved by the Holy See for use in the USA;


So to the question of this thread, I think part of the reason is simple ignorance. I felt a calling by the Lord to ministry before I knew there was a permanent diaconate. I had no idea this existed. It was a parish priest who asked me to become a deacon. This was a couple of years after I truly felt a calling to something; I knew the Lord was calling me to something, but I had no idea what until the priest asked me. Then it became a three year conversation with my wife which did not go well for most of that time. For her, this was completely scary and something she didn’t understand why or how and wanted no part of. It wasn’t until I shared with her my fears as well that she agreed to accompany me to the first year of gatherings, the formal discernment or inquiry year.

The rest is history. We took each class and each semester with the same attitude and made the decision to go through with ordination at my ordination retreat just a couple of weeks before my scheduled ordination day. Nothing like waiting until the last moment!

But this is what bothers me about many comments, the comparison of the two hierarchical levels, priest and deacon. They are not the same, they should be. A person doesn’t simply “choose this because that is not available”. I am a deacon because I am called to be a deacon. I am not called to be a priest, however, I cannot say like my brothers that I have never felt that calling. I felt that calling in my teenage years but my parents and my surroundings did not foster that calling. But to think in any way that the diaconate is a “conciliation prize” for me who cannot be ordained because of marriage is just simply wrong. It is equally wrong to think that when I first felt called to some ministry that I sat down and prayed and came to the conclusion, “well, I’m married so I can’t be a priest, so I choose the diaconate!” It doesn’t work that way.

Just think of it this way, why do men and women devote their lives to Jesus by living consecrated and celibate lives as sisters and brothers or religious communities? Many if not most male consecrated religious will never be priests, so why not get married?

We try to place the deacon in the shoes of the priest, for whatever reason this is reality. Deacons are not priests, we are not “little priests”, nor are we “priests want to be”. I am a deacon, my role in the Mass is distinct and different from the priest; my role in ministry in the world is distinct and different.

Last point, I am not a “part time deacon” as many have stated. I am a deacon in my home, in my bed, in the extended family when we gather, in my job (toughest place is work as most are not Catholic), in community and secular roles I play, etc. I am a deacon in everything I do. This is a distinct charism of the deacon, to stand with one foot in the Church and one foot in the world; thus the deacon wears his stole one leaf of it in front and one leaf on his back. One foot in the clergy and one foot in the world of the layman, but not as a layman but a cleric. I can assure that isn’t easy!


To build on what Lapey said, I think some of these points become clearer if we look at how the diaconate is something other than a religious vocation (in the formal sense of ‘religious’).

After all, plenty of men are called to a celibate religious life but are not called to be priests, these are the religious brothers, who contribute so much to the life and witness of the Church. But brothers’ vocations are almost always some form of Christian service (teaching, nursing, ministering to the homeless, etc.) which is hardly incompatible with the diaconate, so why are they not all ordained deacons?

Being a deacon is neither an occupational vocation (though it can be linked to one), nor is it membership in a religious order. It’s a sacrament: the sacrament of Holy Orders. As per the catechism and Vatican II, this sacrament is found in its fullness among Bishops. Therefore both priests and deacons participate in this sacrament in a more limited way. In that sense, it’s not wrong to think of priests (presbyters) as “bishops light” and deacons as “priests light” (sacerdotes).

Of course, priests (presbyters) and deacons’ participation in Holy Orders is of a fundamentally different nature–a priest is essentially a local stand-in for the bishop, who can’t be everywhere at once, and the deacon is there to *assist *the bishop (and by extension, his priests). A deacon is not a stand-in for a priest.

Even so, I think the fact that it is a sacrament, to which one is called by God through the Church, means that (like it or not), a priest who is called to be a bishop, unless there’s a valid reason not to, is expected to answer that call even if (as is often the case) he has no desire to be a bishop. (Indeed, the Holy Father’s order explicitly forbids any aspirations to the episcopate among its members!)

And so (finally getting around to the original question), I think that a deacon who finds himself called to the priesthood by his bishop will have a duty to answer that call, unless there is a valid reason not to. (In the Latin Church, of course, being married is an valid reason not to be called to the priesthood.)

Therefore, given the shortage of priests in the world, it should not be surprising at all that celibate deacons are quite rare–most wise bishops *will *call upon those deacons they can in good conscience call to the priesthood, and *their *consciences will oblige them to accept the calling. I’m sure there are many holy bishops who, if it had been up to them, would have been happy to remain deacons their whole lives (as indeed they do, but I mean without being ordained further). But it is not up to them–or up to anyone on their own–to decide whether and how they will be ordained.

Ordination marks a man forever for service to the people of God; it’s a different category of thing from (but not incompatible with) the pursuit of sanctification under the charism of a religious order (be it as a consecrated brother or as a married tertiary). I don’t really agree with the original poster’s premise, then, that “The main role of the deacon, is to reach out to the downtrodden, the sick, the poor, etc. and help them live better lives and bring the Gospel of Christ to them.” That certainly is *an *important role deacons play, but liturgical functions, preaching, and assisting the bishop are given just as much emphasis in the catechism.

It is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.

The main role of the deacon, I would say, is to be a cleric, and to manifest this clerical role and presence in the particular ways that belong to the order of deacons. This is what sets them apart from religious brothers, sisters, and baptised Christians generally, all of whom, like deacons, can and should, insofar as God enables them, ‘reach out to the downtrodden, the sick, the poor, etc. and help them live better lives and bring the Gospel of Christ to them’.

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