There are two reasons that a man might be ordained to the deaconate in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The first is because that man will soon be ordained to the priesthood, and the deaconate is a critical step along that path. A transitional deacon never loses his deaconal office or faculties, but he is a deacon who eventually becomes a priest. Unless he has taken a vow of poverty as part of a religious order, a diocesan priest is paid a salary as he devotes his life to ministering to others.
The second reason that a man might be ordained to the deaconate is because the calling of a deacon is his calling to ministry permanently. He accepts this call from the Holy Spirit to serve others (the word diakonia in the Greek means “slave” or “servant”), and he assists in the public liturgy of the Church and ministers to the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, and those on the margins of society. Further, a permanent deacon is charged with speaking up for those people, and his special areas of ministry can involve anything from bringing communion to the sick and homebound, to parish administration, to youth ministry, to public outreach, just to name a few. A deacon can’t celebrate Mass, give the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, or hear confessions (the Sacrament of Reconciliation). He can, however, baptize under proper circumstances, preside over the Sacrament of Matrimony where no Mass is celebrated, and can preside at funerals where no Mass is celebrated and at graveside committals. Like a deacon who eventually becomes a priest, a permanent deacon pledges obedience to the bishop and pledges to conform himself to Christ, emptying himself in service to the Church for the sake of the Gospel. Most permanent deacons, however, enter their ministries as married men who volunteer their time and give of their lives for the sake of the people of God.
The reality that a deacon-who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders-has to carry on his ministry in addition to having a usually non-ecclesiastical paying job to care for and feed his family can create conflict when secular authorities demand things of a deacon that run directly contrary to the Catholic faith that a deacon is duty-bound to uphold by virtue of the promises of his ordination, not to mention his own Catholic conscience. Deacon Greg Hall is an ordained Catholic deacon of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Deacon Greg has made his livelihood for many years manufacturing mining equipment, and he owns a company based in St. Joseph, Minnesota called American Manufacturing. The health care mandate imposed by President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services requiring employers to provide coverage to employees that would cover contraception and abortion directly conflicts with Deacon Greg Hall’s pledge of obedience and fidelity to the Church, not to mention his willingness to be conformed to Christ. Deacon Hall has filed a federal suit, saying that the Administration’s mandate violates his religious liberty as an ordained deacon.
Deacon Hall has said that if he should lose the court case, he would likely be forced to close his manufacturing concern, something that he doesn’t want to do because it would cost the people working there their jobs. However, he understands that as a deacon he can’t knowingly engage in activity that involves material cooperation with evil, which the HHS mandate to cover contraception and abortion in insurance coverage certainly is. The federal government has given Deacon Greg Hall a Hobson’s choice: He must either close his business and cost many people their situations, potentially putting them into destitution (something he certainly must not think to be very deaconal), or he must provide mandated insurance which would require him (a deacon, sworn to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church in obedience) to pay for coverage of the murder of unborn children and the contraception of the unborn, things which are grave evils according to Catholic teaching.
The Obama Administration has argued that exemptions to its tyrannical mandate should only be given directly to churches, but that religious liberties do not apply to secular business. The Administration has failed to explain how ordinary believing people of faith forfeit their freedom when they conduct business, let alone how a member of the clergy who is a part of the business world, and who is bound by a promise of obedience to his bishop-and ultimately to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church-should forfeit his.