The Catholic Church today is in a very tight situation. On the one hand, eliminating homophiles from the seminaries would certainly reduce the sex-abuse scandals. However, they would also be throwing out many faithful clergymen without fully eliminating the problem. And with dwindling numbers of priests, this could be disastrous as well.Solutions to this problem seem to be few and far between, and the Church is in a "damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't" position.I later said that I had a proposal, a possible, if somewhat farfetched, solution to this problem. The solution has several prongs, some more "doable" than others.
The first and most obvious step is to use the existing priests more efficiently. If we have a shortfall, why do some parishes have so many priests? No parish should absolutely need more than two; my own home parish has one single priest who is shared with a neighboring parish (about 30 miles away). There are a number of things that priests are needed to do, such as adminstering most sacrements, particularly Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and Last Rites/Annointing of the Sick (Confirmation and Ordination require a bishop, Baptism and Marriages may be performed by a deacon; more on this later). Working in the seminaries to train other for the priesthood is another thing that priests are needed for. However, in a time of during which we are in need of more priests, it make no sense to be using priests as principals of Catholic schools, for example. Much as there are a number of predominantly hispanic Catholics in the US, we also don't necessarily need multiple priests at each parish to give both English and Spanish Masses: the Homily can be given by a deacon where necessary, and giving the rest of the Mass in English could actually prove to be helpful to Hispanics who are trying to learn the language.
This brings me to the second phase of my proposal: the encouragement of more vocations for permanent deacons*. In theory, the vocation of the diaconate should attract more people that the priesthood. This is for a variety of reasons: deacons can be married, they can raise a family, they can hold a seperate career. Deacons are not a complete replacement for priests. However, they can fulfill many of the roles that would otherwise reuire a priest. As mentioned before, deacons can perform baptisms and weddings; they can also preside at a communion service**, as well as present the homily at a Mass. In many cases. deacons are also charged with teaching in the community (a duty related to some extent with the homily) and administering to the sick***. In short, attracting more men to the permanent diaconate will help relieve some of the strain on the Church's dwindling numbers of priests.
Neither of these two phases are particularly farfetched. The former involves reorganization of the priests, the latter involves actively attempting to attract more men to the diaconate. I don't think I've ever heard a homily in which the priest has called on men to consider whether they are being called to the diaconate, and direct calls to the priesthood in homilies have been almost as rare. However, there is one more phase to this proposal, one which would help increase the number of priestly vocations. It is the least implementable phase for several reasons, but if implemented would solve a few problems, both for the Church and for society in general.
The final part of my proposal is this: the Church should begin grooming children for the vocation of priesthood at a younger age. Now, there are both some practical and some impractical points to this. Practically speaking, this means that the Catholic schools should place more emphasis on the importance of the priesthood to the Church. That part is easy enough an may hopefully attract a few more young men to the Church.
The "less" practical side is that the Church could institute a form of adoption center for "unwanted" children. Such a center could take children of a certain (maximum?) age as a form of adoption. These children would be given a religious education, a dormitory room to live in, and all of the necessities of life needed (short of, perhaps, a true mother and father). In short, the Church would rescue unwanted children, some of whom may have otherwise been aborted, others who would have likely turned to a life of crime; it would teach them, giving them a better education than many children are given today. In return, these children would then dedicate their adult lives to the Church.
Certainly, not all of them would become future priests; but a good number of them certainly would; others may take up the vocational call of the diaconate. Most would probably end up very faithful to the Church: those who do not grow up to become priests, and there would certainly be some, would hopefully be gratefull enough to contribute financially to sustaingin these adoption centers. And, as the adoption centers would be preparing them for a possible future as priests, and since it would be encouraging them to seriously consider this vocation (unlike the secular world, which tends to do the exact opposite), odd are that a large number of these people would eventually enter the priestly vocation. This could create a great increase in the future numbers of priests.
This last phase is certainly imperfect. The greatest problem with it is that it would pose at the least a short-term strain on the Church's resources, both financial and in terms of personnel. If an operating cost of $10000/year is used, then if such a center had 10 children per year from infant to 18, the total cost of one such center would be $1.8 million/year. Unfortunately, taking an optimistic estimate that 10% of these children go on to becom priests, the result is that the Church will only gain one person to the vocation for an anual cost of $1.8 million (excluding the costs of operating a seminary). This becomes exceedingly expesnive to work out (the single biggest flaw in this phase). However, this expense may in part be offset if some of the "alumni" of such programs are encouraged to donate back to the program. Also, if the older members of such a center attempted to get jobs while living there, the costs could be slightly offset, as well. As a side benefit, the value of provding for one's own living would be learned by many of these people: a lesson needed by far too many in today's world.
It's unfortunately not a perfect plan (because of the prohibitve cost). However, it would benefit everyone involved. Tt would provide benefits to the Church in that if enough of these pre-seminaries were formed, the Church could swell the ranks of its priests again. It would benefit society (beyond just the fact that there would be more priests to go round), as we would have these centers that would take in the "unwanted" children of society that tragically tend to be viewed as a problem with not permanent solution as of yet. And of course, it would benefit the children themselves, as they would perhaps not gain a tradition family in the sense of a mother and father, but would at least be fed and cared for, well educated, and yes, loved by the people placed in charge of caring for them via the pre-seminary adoption center.
Should a means of overcoming the financial barrier be found, this would be a powerfull solution to the problem of the dwindling numbers of priests in the US. I gave the scenario of having a single center: imagine hundred of these centers, several in each state, providing for society's unwanted children, and in return seeing hundreds of additional people entering the priestly vocation each year as a result.
*The permanent vocation of the diaconate holds some special attraaction for me personally. I have been considering whether or not I have a call to this vocation. However, since the USCCB requires a minimum age of 35 years, I still have a long time to discern this vocation.
**However, the deacon cannot actually perfor the actual transubstantiation; this is a "power" reserved for priests (it is actually God Himself who does the transubstantiation, the priest acts as the "conduit" or "facilitator" for lack of better terms).
***The deacon may administered the Viaticum Communion, ie Holy Communion for a person who is nearing death; however, a priest is still required to actually perform the transubstantiation. The Sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick (aka Last Rites or Extreme Unction) must be performed/administered by a priest. Deacons are, in fact, often the ones charged with taking cmmunion to the infirm or elderly.