With the Catholic church’s imaged tarnished with scandals, the number of priests ordained in the French churches is on the decline. This decline in Europe and the United States began well before the sex scandals that rocked the Catholic Church off late. The count of French Priests has dwindled down to 24,000 from 42,000 in 1975. The number of ordainments has declined as well, from 116 in 1999 to 89 in 2009.
The French Catholic church launched a Facebook campaign aimed at recruiting young French priests and improving their scandal tainted image.
The Facebook campaign worth €250,000 was launched throughout the French nation on April 20th, which lasted till May 5th. The main goal of this campaign is to encourage young French men to consider taking to priesthood. This campaign also aims at rejuvenating the Church’s image in the French society. The Church hired the communications company Bayard Service to run its campaign.
“Why Not Me?” is the slogan for the recruitment campaign. In hindsight, the Church may feel that this may prove to be a tough question to answer. Seventy thousand postcards depicting a Catholic priest’s outfit with a button reading “Jesus is my Boss,” pinned to the lapel and the slogan “Why not?” written underneath was to be distributed to 600 points throughout France, including restaurants, bars and movie theaters. The Facebook page acquired over 1,200 fans within one week!
The vow of celibacy is not the only difficult sell the Catholic Church faces in its efforts to attract young priests. Sixty-four percent of the French population, or 41.6 million of France’s 65 million inhabitants, identifies itself as Catholic, however, only a little more than 2 million attend church each week, says Jacques Carton, a representative from the Bishops Conference in France.
Frederic Fonfroide de Lafon, the director of Bayard Service, feels that often people feel a priest is a man bit apart. Through this campaign he would like to show that the priest is a man who is a part of society.
A young Frenchman by the name of Guillaume Humblot, who found himself troubled by the decline in the number of French priests, hit upon this Facebook campaign and asked himself if he was ready to be recruited. “There are almost none left,” the 31-year-old Humblot had mentioned.
“I’m asking myself the question,” Guillaume had said. “It’s a calling that interests me, but today I am unable to tell you if I am ready to go down that path.” One of the things he finds difficult is to accept the Catholic priest’s commitment to celibacy. He’s not sure, if he’s ready to completely change his lifestyle.
“I already have a professional life,” he said. “I’m already settled in my life. I have hobbies, I like to see my friends. It’s not easy to completely change your life like this.”
One of the priests coordinating the campaign, Eric Poinsot, mentioned a week after the campaign was launched that he’s been receiving more than 100 e-mails a day in response, of which nearly all were positive. Hopefully for Eric and the entire French Church, Facebook might just help raise the dwindling number of French priests.