I personally think this has to do with smaller families in the U.S.
When parents only have a few children, there’s a good chance that both will be girls (that’s our situation).
And when there is only one son, parents want the son to get married and continue the family name. Even if they don’t actively discourage a boy from discerning a vocation, they might passively discourage it; e.g, they can say things like, “We’re so looking forward to having grandchildren,” or “Our family name has been around for seven generations, and your children will be the eighth generation.”
My husband and I were Protestant throughout our fertile years, so we didn’t know any better about the contraception mentality. Now that we are in our 50s, we regret that we didn’t have a bigger family. But we didn’t know.
The scandal in the U.S. has certainly hurt, also. In the U.S., it is generally not considered an honorable thing to enter the priesthood. I think that if a boy makes this announcement during his middle or high school years, he could face some significant ostracizing and ridicule. That’s pretty tough to face alone.
There is so much sexualization of children and young people in the U.S.–I wonder if young men who feel called to the priesthood start to doubt their sexuality and worry that they are not heterosexual. After all, all the other young men their age are talking about girls, girls, girls. This could be a real struggle for a teenager–teens hate feeling “different” than their peers.
Add to that parents who are NOT at all enamored of the idea of having a son in the priesthood, and you have a formula that almost guarantees that many young men will try desperately to ignore their calling. Hopefully they will respond as they get older, which seems to be what’s happening.
One thing that I think would really help the situation in the U.S. is to have more open discussion of how priests and others in a vocation actually make a living. In the U.S., we worry about financial security. It’s a big deal here.
Historically, priests have been very poor. I don’t think this is the case in the U.S. anymore, but I honestly don’t know. Our priests seem to be doing pretty well–they certainly aren’t thin, and they drive nice cars and live in nice apartments. And they seem to get vacations and days off, and if they’re sick, they seem to have their health care expenses covered.
I think that if finances in vocations were discussed more openly in the U.S., and parents and their children were assured that priests DO make enough money to have a comfortable lifestyle, with adequate food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and health care–it would go a long way towards alleviating one more fear that parents and their children have about vocations.
The problem is, while we worry about finances in the U.S., we also keep this part of our lives a deep dark secret. This needs to change. Families want to know “how much does a priest make?” I think that’s a fair question.