French Catholic church campaigns for more priests
PARIS (Reuters) - France's Catholic church has unfurled a public campaign for more priests to ease a shortage amid a crisis of confidence worsened by widening allegations of clergymen sexually abusing children.
The Vatican's moral authority has been eroded by reports of sexually predatory priests and cover-ups by supervising bishops in Europe and North America, compounding a longer-term decline in piety and church attendance.
"Just because there is a crisis doesn't mean we stop recruiting," said Father Bernard Podvin, spokesman for Roman Catholic bishops in France, a country of 62 million people of whom about two-thirds identify themselves as Catholics.
"This is about education and showing what a priest's mission is ... things that used to be known when society was more stable, but now it's much more difficult with so much of the population no longer meeting a priest," he said in an interview.
The public recruitment campaign aims to portray clergy life in a more light-hearted, modern fashion and educate people of all ages to the benefits of a career in the church.
Parish priest numbers have fallen alarmingly. According to French daily Le Parisien, France had just over 15,000 priests in 2008, down more than 5,000 since 1998.
Podvin said these numbers were too small especially with new community centres and hospitals popping up alongside the more than 100 dioceses across France.
Training alone can take as long as six years and at the moment just 100 new priests enter service each year in France.
"We're not targeting any specific numbers," said Podvin. "That's up to the Holy Spirit. We need priests... Our goal is not to redo the past, but adapt to a new situation."
The 200,000-euro campaign centres on three age groups. For the youngest 16-22 -- often unsure as to which career to pursue -- more than 70,000 postcard-size advertisements will be distributed to 600 outlets. The message is simple: "Why Not?" or "Jesus is My Boss," a smiling, dog collar-clad young man says.
For those heading to university, a brochure will outline a priest's journey and role in society, while for those over 30 an ad campaign in various publications will call for donations and push home the church's spiritual message.
"We planned this campaign a while back and are pressing ahead with vigour," said Podvin. "It is necessary to find the spiritual life."
At a time when the Catholic church is under intense scrutiny and pressure to root out sex scandals, Podvin was adamant that the new campaign for more priests was not out of place.
"It's true that the global paedophilia crisis makes us more sensitive, but we have condemned this completely," he said.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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