LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Rev. Bob Klemme is a priest at two north-central Roman Catholic parishes 10 miles apart, celebrating 10 Masses each week in addition to any funerals and weddings that occur.
"I keep busy," he said. "I get by. I don't have any complaints about it."
St. Charles Parish in Otterbein and St. Patrick Parish in Oxford, northwest of Lafayette, sharing Klemme as a priest is a sign of the times as the United States is experiencing a decline in the number of Catholic priests despite a rise in those identifying as Catholic. The Lafayette diocese had 154 priests in 1990, the Journal & Courier reported (http://on.jconline.com/X6rgML). By 2010, that number had dropped to 129. During that same time period, the number of parishioners rose from 84,600 to 100,691.
The trend is national — according to statistics from the nonprofit Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of Catholic priests in the United States dropped 33 percent from 1975 to 2012. There were 58,909 in 1975, compared to 38,964 in 2012. During that time, the number of self-identified Catholics rose 43 percent to 78.2 million.
Priests from other countries, such as Nigeria and Mexico, help ease the shortage. There are four international priests in the Lafayette diocese — three from Nigeria and one from Mexico. In 1990, there were no international priests in the diocese.
Rev. Cajetan Ebuziem, a chaplain with Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health, came to the Lafayette area in 2007 from Nigeria after his bishop asked him to travel to the U.S. to gain cross-cultural ministry skills. He said he was unaware of the priest shortage in the United States but thinks modernity, secularism and materialism are reasons for the decline.
The Rev. Gustavo Lopez, a Mexican priest who's been at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Lafayette for six years, has a similar view.
"This culture (here) is a very egotistic and materialistic culture," he said. "Faith is not important here in the U.S. God is lost here."
Monsignor Robert Sell of the Lafayette diocese said he believes fewer men in the United States are becoming priests because "the priesthood is not presently viewed by young men as a lucrative means of making a living." He said society now places more of an emphasis on economic well-being.
Others say the priest shortage might relate to the required vow of celibacy.
Vanderbilt University Catholic studies professor Bruce Morrill said the church should allow married Roman Catholic men to become priests.
"I've met so many young men and older men who had indicated they would readily become Roman Catholic priests if they could do this as married men with families," he said. "There is no doubt that this would bear results."
Thomas Haan, 26, of Lafayette, is studying at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland and will become an ordained priest for the Diocese of Lafayette-of-Indiana in June. He said the promise of celibacy did not deter him.
"If God is calling me to something, he will surely provide grace for me, and he has," he said. "A big part of living that life has to do with an intimate prayer life, to fulfill that desire for intimacy."
Information from Journal and Courier.