Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Deacons: Their Age and Their Formation
Here's another interesting observation: In the United States, the average age of permanent deacons is now nearly 64 years of age. In nearly every other region of the world, the average age of permanent deacons is in the mid-40s! When I travel abroad on diaconate matters, it's not unusual for me to hear how the diaconate in the US is a "retirees' club".
Let's set the record straight. Church law states that a MARRIED man should be 35 at the time of ordination as a deacon, and that an unmarried man may be ordained at age 25. In the United States, the bishops have had a long-standing law that ALL candidates for the permanent diaconate, married and single, should be 35 at the time of ordination. This is a US distinction, and not one imposed universally.
The reason for the higher age for married candidates is simple and wise: The church wants to make sure that the married couple has been married for a while and has attained a maturity and stability within their marriage prior to adding on the challenges of ordained ministry. However, while 35 is the norm, it is not absolute. The local diocesan bishop can waive a year off of this requirement (and ordain someone at 34), and if the person is younger than that, Rome will dispense another 2 1/2 years if the bishop requests it. This is not all that unusual.
Finally, a point from history. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, 101 proposals were received from bishops around the world discussing the possibility of ordaining permanent deacons, and many of these proposals were in favor of opening ordination to married men "of a mature age." When this "mature age" was discussed before the Council, it was deterimined to be 40. During the the Council debates on the diaconate in 1963, however, the bishops decided that 40 was too old, and they lowered the age to 35. Clearly the bishops anticipated that these new permanent deacons would still be heavily engaged in the raising of their families and in their secular jobs, careers, and professions. The bishops did not foresee a man who had already helped raise a family and who had already retired from his secular occupations in order to "enter the Church" (that's a rather antiquated expression that used to mean "to enter ordained or religious service").
So, with regard to the age of US deacons, we can ponder about why it has developed as it has here, and even more important, what needs to be done to include younger candidates as the Council had envisioned and hoped, and which in fact, are found in other parts of the world.
This returns us briefly to the posting a made a few days ago about the formation of deacons. I sometimes hear concerns that one reason younger men do not apply for diaconate formation is because the requirements are now too strict to permit a young married man to participate. However, other formation programs around the world are no less strict, and the requirements for ordination no less substantive. So, how do other countries find their younger married candidates?
Just some more to ponder and discuss. . . .