I think the answer is that, as in all walks of life, most people have the right motivations, but there are a few who spoil it for everyone else. We had a parish priest who insisted upon being addressed at all times as ‘Monsignor’. When somebody (who was in fact a mainstay of the parish and the community) addressed him, perfectly respectfully and properly, as ‘Father’, he stopped her right there and informed her that he expected her to address him as ‘Monsignor’. He’s now at another parish, and I note with some amusement that on the archdiocese’s website they call him ‘Father’, but on his own parish website he calls himself ‘Monsignor’. I personally think that this sort of person is a poor advertisement for the priesthood. There’s nothing inherently wrong with people having titles, but they shouldn’t be used to set oneself up above other people and even cause them embarrassment.
Some priests do seem to be seeking out high office. I knew a university chaplain who rarely had to preach at the main Sunday Mass, as he had usually invited a bishop or abbot (or indeed the apostolic nuncio) to preach. There were rumours that he was expecting to be made a bishop. As it turned out, he was rewarded with a position at the Vatican and appointment as a monsignor.
On the other hand, many years ago now I was fortunate enough to meet H.E. Cardinal Hume, at the time the metropolitan archbishop of Westminster (considered to be the chief pastor of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the true successor of St Augustine). I was quite young and probably looking a little lost, and he just held out his hand and said, ‘Hello, I’m Basil’, and we had a pleasant chat (in which he asked me questions about myself and didn’t talk about himself at all). He was wearing his monastic habit and did not mention his surname or title, so I could easily have not even realised that he was a former abbot of Ampleforth, a cardinal-priest of the Holy Roman Church, and the eldest son of a knight of the realm to boot!
By the way, have you seen the BBC series Broken? It’s a drama, so obviously expect elements of the narrative to be invented or exaggerated, but I thought it was a pretty faithful and sympathetic portrait of what a priest can be for his people and some of the personal struggles that he experiences. Although he seems to have gone off the rails somewhat as a young man before entering seminary, a theme is that he was an exceptional pupil at school, especially in English literature (his essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘The Windhover’ is so good that his teacher is certain that he’s copied it from somewhere).