Psst . . . know anyone who would make a good priest?
With aging priests and fewer men turning to the priesthood, the London diocese of the Roman Catholic Church is asking parishioners to nominate men they think would make good priests.
The diocese recently kick-started an ambitious program, Called By Name, inviting parishioners to fill out ballot-like cards to leave in the collection basket during Sunday mass.
It's all part of a plan to boost the number of priests in the face of changing demographics – the average age of active priests in the diocese is 55.
"The basis is in order for us to reach out to individuals discerning a call to priesthood, we have to name them first," said Rev. John Pirt, vocations director with the diocese. As part of the push, Pirt also will speak at Catholic high schools about priesthood as a vocation.
The program has been used by other dioceses with much success, he said.
There are 125 active priests in the diocese, but that number is expected to drop to 73 by 2025 – and nearly half will be from outside North America.
The diocese already has priests from Africa, Asia and South America – places where there's an overabundance of priests – working here.
Nominating a young man for the priesthood doesn't put him on the fast track for ordination. The process is still about eight years, three to complete a bachelor of arts degree and five to complete studies in theology, including one year working in a parish – and that's after dinners with Bishop Ronald Fabbro, weekend stays at St. Peter's Seminary, psychological testing and much reflection.
"We're not into the hard sell or pressure," Pirt said. "It's a joint discerning. That's the key."
The recruitment campaign is only one tool the diocese uses to encourage single men to consider the priesthood. Pirt has been travelling across the large diocese that stretches from Windsor to Woodstock and Goderich to Port Dover preaching at churches and handing out his card. The diocese also uses social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
Part of the drop in the number of men entertaining the priesthood is caused by a societal shift that doesn't foster a call to vocation, Pirt said.
"It's hard to feel called to priesthood if you're not going to church."
In a trends report released in 2011, the diocese found people have less of a connection with traditional institutions and practise their spirituality separate from traditional churches.
People also lost trust in the Catholic Church after it was swept by hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse by some priests, for which Pope Benedict has apologized.
ABOUT THE LONDON DIOCESE
- Covers most of Southwestern Ontario and is one of the largest, taking in Elgin, Essex, Huron, Kent, Lambton, Middlesex, Norfolk, Oxford and Perth counties.
- Retirement age for priests is 70 and 75 for bishops, though many continue to work or help out past that age.
- There are three classifications of priests: incardinated, those ordained for the London diocese or officially transferred; non-incardinated, those ordained for other dioceses but live and work in the London diocese; religious order, Fransciscans, Jesuits, Basilians and others who live or work in the diocese.
BY THE NUMBERS
231: Priests working or living in the diocese
125: Active priests
55: Average age of active priests
34: Number of priests under 50
9: Number of priests under 40