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?