July 25, 2012
Requirements: a sense of religious mission and a commitment to celibacy. Benefits: a possible inside track to Heaven.
Seeking to repopulate its thinning clerical ranks, the Roman Catholic diocese of Austria’s largest province launched a province-wide billboard campaign Tuesday meant to recruit priests.
Nuns are welcome as well. And the posters are also looking for part-time help — laymen and women prepared to dedicate at least part of their life to Catholic religious and social service.
Such mass advertising for priests is rare anywhere — and the decision of the Lower Austrian diocese to turn to it now reflects fears that the Catholic Church in this country many soon not be able to carry out its mission due to the lack of clergy.
Austria formally remains an overwhelmingly Catholic nation, with more than 64 percent of its people declaring themselves as church members. But many are Catholics in name only.
Like elsewhere in much of Europe, Masses are poorly populated in Vienna and other bigger cities and the number of declared Catholics is shrinking — in Austria by 13 percent since 1960 — as former believers fed up with church scandals and a perceived sense of the Vatican’s disconnect with the world flee in droves.
At the same time, however, the number of priests has dropped even more sharply — in Austria by 26 percent. In St. Poelten, Lower Austria’s provincial capital, 244 priests are administering to the needs of believers in 423 parishes. Country-wide, the overwhelming majority of priests are over 60, and young replacements are scarce.
Launching the billboard campaign Tuesday, Klaus Kueng, St. Polten’s bishop, described the lack of interest in the priesthood as “a huge problem.” But Lukas Leitner, whose advertising agency developed the project, was optimistic that his strategy would bear fruit.
SHARED FROM UCAN NEWS