...While the number of American priests has fallen from about 58,000 to about 42,000 over the past 40 years, the Roman Catholic church has added almost 1,000 parishes. More than 3,000 churches lack a resident priest, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.The CARA Web site, by the way, is an excellent source for detailed statistical data on this issue. And, just as we reported earlier for Chiapas, celibacy also appears to be THE ISSUE in the USA. While the number of priests declined from 57,317 in 1985 to 41,794 in 2006, during the same period the number of permanent deacons more than doubled from 7,204 (1985) to 14,795 (2006).
The reasons for the shortage are simple: the celibacy requirement and the lifelong commitment, said Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at Catholic University of America.
"If either of those could be eliminated, the problem would be eliminated," Hoge said. "Making such a lifetime promise of loyalty is too much for most Americans."
It's not that American Catholic men don't want to serve the Church. It's that they no longer want to give up a wife and a family to do so.
PS: For those who want to continue to follow the Chiapas story and who speak Spanish, the Mexican news site Proceso.com.mx offers an excellent summary of Bishop Arizmendi's response (“¿Sacerdotes casados en Chiapas?” -- "Married Priests in Chiapas?") and also gives greater detail on Arizmendi's previous statements about the lack of priests in his diocese and his stress on the importance of “continuar la búsqueda de una formación sacerdotal inculturada” ("continuing to look for inculturated priestly formation"). The urgency of this is underscored by his remark that there are slightly over 200 indigenous priests and 300 indigenous seminarians in Mexico. The total number of active priests in Mexico is around 15,000 so, whereas indigenous people make up 13% of Mexico's population, only a minimal fraction of the Catholic clergy is indigenous.
The Vatican may not understand why this is relevant, but people like Bishop Arizmendi who work on the ground in significantly indigenous areas like Chiapas sure do.