An Economic Analysis of the Priest Shortage


I thought that I would analyze this issue from the standpoint of economics. In particular, I thought that the principle of incentives would be the most prudent approach.

Now, in the market, if there is a necessary skill, and not enough people performing that skill, those who currently have the skill will raise the price for that skill. It accomplishes a few things: it rations their skills to the most productive uses (because those who don’t really need it aren’t going to pay a lot), and it encourages people to learn the skill because they are attracted by the high pay. There is generally no debate on this principle, but how can we apply it to priests?

For priests, material reward can’t be used to encourage more to go to into the priesthood. Taking a vow of poverty gets in the way of that. So then, what has changed in the past hundred years to induce this crisis? Has the world become more appealing? Relatively speaking obviously it has, but what about absolutes? Is it the world that is more appealing, or is it the Church that is less appealing? I’d like to argue the latter, but not because something has inherently changed in the Church. Far from it, the Church is the Church that always has been and always will be. The world has seen bouts of modernism like this before, but it has come back. Think of France during the French revolution or the Protestant reformation.

So then if the Church has not changed, what has changed to make the priesthood less appealing to young men? I believe that the answer lies in tradition. In the past the Church represented two thousand years of the brightest theological thinkers, an eternal and ethereal liturgy, and an unmatched spirituality. For about the past 50 years, a profound change has occurred in the culture of the Church. These merits have been dismissed. Catholics are embarrassed of the old culture, such that any Latin in Mass is viewed dismissively. Prayer and rites other than the Mass have been abandoned. I am not saying that this is a product of the Second Vatican Council! Absolutely not. What has happened is that many Catholics have become embarrassed of their heritage to become more acceptable to the world. That is the problem.

When the Church tries to become more like the world, it is necessarily less appealing. The Church should not and cannot imitate the world. The world is better at it. So why then, would we ignore the centuries of philosophy and theology that is ours? Why would we ignore the arts and the tremendous benefits that the Church has brought to the world (charity, medicine, education)?

Until the fruits of the Church and its long history are again emphasized, then you are only presenting young men a very limited idea of the Church. In fact, this bare Catholicism is not very different from Protestantism. There is a specific manner to Catholic worship, to Catholic personality, to Catholic identity in general. If this is ignored, then why would a young man become a priest? What is the appeal?

Our heritage is the treasure we offer, and if that is taken away, then it is like taking away the salary of a businessman. He’s not going to work for nothing, and similarly, why would someone become a priest when many of the greatest parts of Catholicism are generally forgotten?


I don’t think ordinary diocesan priests take a vow of poverty.


[quote="Bran_Stark, post:2, topic:317119"]
I don't think ordinary diocesan priests take a vow of poverty.


they don't


A lot of thought sent into this, and I'm happy to see you doing this kind of thinking!:thumbsup:
You have some realy good points here.

I'd like to propose a different angle altogether.

1Lets suppose the number of men entering into the priesthood has nothing to do with what these men will get in return. A life of busy days, inter-parish conflicts, chastity, low pay, loneliness, and working weekends doesn't sound like a enticing job description.

Those are the day to day realities anyone looking at the priesthood from the outside would/could see. *Truth-of the matter: Parish priests are 3 things. Sanctifies, Shepherds, and Teachers. Logically, one would only wish to teach, shepherd and sanctify for reasons other then self interests.
Joining the priesthood does enroll you into the heritage of the Church, but not in a more distinctively profound way. My point here is, that an economic analysis could fall short of, perhaps, seeing what lies at the root of the shortage; and in other words, how can we help the shortage.

2 Let's suppose the priest shortage is caused by nothing that has to do with the Church in terms of practices, rituals, heritage. Lets suppose the shortage is due to the effectiveness of the Church's educational tactics; whether intentional or accidental. If the actual catechizing of the average young catholic going on in the average parish was failing, we would see a slow decrease in knowledge of the entire curriculum of Catholic doctrines taught. I cannot cite any sources, but I, and many would agree this has and is happening. Next I would suppose, in a generations time, even the catechists, catholic school teachers, nuns, and to some degree priests, would themselves be not in possession of the full story of the what why where when and how of the Church's teachings, leaving holes in the theology they themselves were teaching. Most teachers wouldn't effectivly teach what they disagree with, and even less would hold someone accountable to standards they themselves did not believe in. In another generations time, when the culture had a hold on many Catholics, as they fell into sin, like we all do, and aspects of the culture spread into the catholic populous,(here I will delve into particulars) that is, the sexual revolution and all its attributes(contraception and sterilization and casual sex) we would see a decrease in Gods own invention, marriage. This largely underestimated, hugely important institution, holds the key to the numbers of priests heeding the "call". Large families typically produce more priests. As people grow more and more willing to pick and choose the doctorines they want to believe, yet still remain camouflaged as Catholics, the tendencies to say to themselves "I have to right to decide the number of children I want to have" grow. Iron sharpens iron, and so we renforce this belief to one another, and justify contraception, sterilization and closeness to life within marriage for selfish reasons. Family sizes shrink, and we see less and less priests, and the number of priests-to-lay decreases, and our parishes close and are condensed. Thoughts?


[quote="smndtupidisaftr, post:1, topic:317119"]
The world has seen bouts of modernism like this before, but it has come back. Think of France during the French revolution or the Protestant reformation.


While I agree with your thesis here in broad strokes I do have to disagree with this particular part of it. I don't really believe the world has "come back" from these blows of the French Revolution or the Protestant Reformation. Both of these things were catalysts for the type of secularism and relativism we see today. Not only has the world not "come back" from it, it has expanded what the French Revolution and Protestant Reformation started and become worse with the passage of time.

God bless.



Interesting post! I agree with you on a lot of points in there.

But I would like to point out that, theoretically, diocesan priests could be (and in the past--think Renaissance-- have been) paid a lot. I'm not suggesting we should raise priests' salaries as an incentive or anything though. The reward is in the job in my opinion. And it's a lot like the military anyway because while the salary isn't great, the benefits are pretty good, with most expenses paid for, a free education (in many dioceses), and sometimes a retirement.


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