Surveys among Catholic Deacons in Latin America

When analyzing clergy attitudes toward different topics, there is always a valid critique when scholars center their focus on bishops: the bishop in his diocese is still slightly far away from rank and file parishioners (Smith 2008). A similar point can be made when talking about pastors and priests (Sota and Luengo 1994). A very similar problem also emerges when only priests and pastors are considered, because there is another intermediate point of contact between priests and the faithful when dealing with administration of some sacraments: deacons.

In the Catholic Church, deacons play a sacramental role, given that deacons can administers all sacraments except mass, due to transubstantiation, which is a priests activity only. There are two main types of deacons, “in transit” to priesthood, and permanent deacons. Clergy training includes a six months/one year or even two years of exercising a ministry as deacon, but this ministry is time limited (pro tempore) before priesthood. Among permanent deacons there are two types as well, single and married deacons. The only restriction for permanent deacons is that they should get married before they were ordained. The diaconate was restored as a permanent ministry by Pope Paul VI, on June 18 of 1967, following a Second Vatican Council mandate.

There are 31,000 permanent deacons in the world, and around 6,000 are from Latin America, essentially, permanent deacons live in Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Argentina (according to Deacon Miguel Ángel Herrera Parra in his slides here

Relations between bishops and permanent deacons are good in Latin American settings. In fact, permanent deacons across Latin America ranked relatively high the relations between deacons and bishops, using a 7 point scale: 5.9 in 2007; 6.3 in 2008; 6.1 in 2009; 6.0 in 2010; and 5.9 in 2011, as reported by the Annual Permanent Deacons Surveys conducted by the CIDAL and coordinated by Deacon Miguel Ángel Herrera Parra (one brief report is available at

Demographics collected between 2007 and 2010 reveal that around 90 percent of deacons are married, and their marriages are more than 30 years, they have, on average, three kids, 20 percent attended college, and half of deacons got another job (additional to the church ministry). Finally, regarding previous training, permanent deacons usually receive 4.7 years of previous training. A more complete report here, and results from the 2012 surveys are available here (  The full questionnaire can be found at


Herrera, Miguel Ángel. 2011. “Encuesta Anual de Diáconos Permanentes”. Online resource available at

Smith, Gregory A. 2008. Politics in the Parish: The Political Influence of Catholic Priests. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Sota, Enrique and Enrique Luengo. 1994. Entre la conciencia y la obediencia: La opinión del clero sobre la política en México. Mexico City: Universidad Iberoamericana.

About Alejandro Diaz Dominguez

Professor, School of Government at Tecnológico de Monterrey. PhD in Political Science at Vanderbilt University. [religion and politics, R, surveys, electoral management bodies] Twitter: @alejdiazd View all posts by Alejandro Diaz Dominguez

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