Recruiting Priests With Slick Movie Ad

Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Fordham University Center of Religion and Culture and former senior religious correspondent for The New York Times, believes resistance to the priesthood goes deeper than that.

"Fundamentally, there is very serious and growing shortage of priests," said Steinfels, author of "A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America."

"Over the years there have been quite a number of campaigns to recruit priests, but this is a new twist in a theater setting," according to Steinfels, who said most efforts were not successful.

Steinfels blames priest disillusionment after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) when the church dragged its heels after a dialogue to "update" its thinking on issues such as birth control, the role of priests and even attitudes toward celibacy.

"You get the standard explanation that society is more materialistic, that people shy away from the commitment, but it is the celibacy issue," he said. "All the issues raised by those critical [of it] have some truth. But there are other factors — the demography and the size of Catholic families."

Having a child go on to serve as a priest or a nun was a "great source of pride" for families several decades ago, he said. But with changing demographics and smaller families, parents expect grandchildren and are less supportive of children who consider a commitment to celibacy.

So, too, is the "changing view of marriage," he said. "The church has a more positive view of marriage as a way to holiness. Years ago, compared to nuns and priests, the married were second-class citizens."

The church has also turned its back on a large pool of talent for the priesthood — women. "It's a quality issue," he said. "There's a very motivated, interested [group] who have been blocked."

Turnaround?

Steinfels contends Catholics are not losing their sense of spirituality; rather, they are choosing to serve in a lay capacity, in education and in other roles once assumed only by priests.

"They think of it as a calling, the holy spirit in action," he said.

New York's vocational director Sweeney is optimistic that the "Heroes" campaign, whether in movie theaters or on YouTube, can begin to turn the numbers around.

Still, the fight is especially hard in a city like New York.

"It's the secularism, the materialism, consumerism and hedonism," Sweeney said. "It makes for an exciting and challenging place, but it doesn't help nurture a choice in life which is looking to consecrate God."

To visit the Web site or view the movie ad, visit NYPriest.com

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