The problem with vocations is complex; there are many factors. One that is often overlooked is contraception. Once Catholics start contracepting the Catholic population begins its decline. it's there in the statistics. Before contraception was legalised in Ireland about 1978 the Net Fertility Rate was about 3. After legalisation it declined steadily and dropped below Replacement Rate (2.1) about ten years later and kept declining. It has reached as low as 1.85 and some Government bodies believe it will go down as low as 1.6 despite it reaching back up to about 2 in recent years. The result is that even were there a strong faith and good catechesis still in Ireland enough boys have not been conceived to sustain both marriage and priesthood. Ireland like the vast majority of Western nations is on the slide to ruin.
There are other impacts. Once a society de facto
accepts the morality of contraception (the artificial separation of unitive and procreative ends) it also implicitly accepts the morality of homosexual acts and other perversions of sexuality. It is only a matter of time before society is pressured to normalise homosexuality as is happening. For the clergy that accept or tolerate contraceptive behaviour among the faithful and do not defend the Church's teaching it becomes increasingly difficult to promote celibacy and chastity. They become intolerable impositions and there seems to be no logical reason why homosexuality should not be accepted even among clerics.
There are other results. A people that contracept no longer see children as a gift but as a product, a possession and even as a burden. Society becomes less tolerant of children and less welcoming to them and to large families. A Catholic society that accepts contraception is less and less sacrificial in its thinking and less and less conducive to self-sacrifice and asceticism. In such an environment how can vocations grow?
In addition there is the problem of disobedience. By not keeping to the Lord's plan for sexuality we are killing our civilization and our Church. We are calling down curses on our own heads. The decline in vocations is but a symptom of the widespread disobedience (not just on the liberal side!) that has grown up in the Church especially in the West.
Married clergy were part of the early Church but they were expected to be chaste once ordained. A priest whose wife conceived was stripped of his office (see Stefan Heid's Celibacy in the Early Church: The Beginnings of Obligatory Continence for Clerics in East and West)
. The Eastern Church departed from tradition to avoid widespread rebellion among the lower clergy in the later part of the first millennium. It could be argued that this contributed to her later split with Rome. The Roman discipline of a celibate clergy is of Apostolic origin - to change it would be to make things worse in the long run.
The answer to our problems is fidelity to Tradition, unity with the Holy Father and obedience to God. When it comes to the 'lavender mafia' then they must be confronted with orthodoxy and invited to conversion to the true path of holiness. We should consider no man beyond redemption and never give up on anyone. That said we must oppose the evil of any elite that serves itself rather than the Kingdom of God. We need to support and stand by those who wish to deal with this evil. We need to give support to those whose backbone is weak. We need to oppose those who oppose the Kingdom. We need to unite and stick together so that these cabals are broken up and disempowered.
Reversing these evils (contraception, decline in vocations, active homosexuality in society, the Church and her priesthood, and the widespread disobedience to God) will not be easy nor will it be quick. There are dark and difficult days ahead but in Christ the Light and our Hope
we can conquer.