The Catholic Church Turns to Social Networks to Recruit

When it comes to the holy call that is the priesthood, it turns out that it can come in many forms, including via Facebook. The Catholic Church in France has turned to the social-networking site as part of its campaign to recruit young priests, with the hope that they can reverse years of dwindling ordainment. (Think 24,000 priests in France today compared with 42,000 in 1975.)

The church's Facebook page, which was set up on April 21 in French, has garnered more than 1,400 fans so far. Most of the posts center on reasons to consider a career of the cloth, a difficult pitch to make given the recent child-abuse scandals. According to the Associated Press, the campaign was launched April 20 and also included "postcards depicting a Catholic priest's outfit with a button reading 'Jesus is my Boss,' " pinned to the lapel. These have been distributed at restaurants, bars, and movie theaters across France.

The French are not alone in the push to use social networks and other online communities as a way of attracting a new generation of Catholic leaders. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops launched ForYourVocation along with a Facebook page two weeks ago. The site provides information for men and women who are interested in serving the church. "The church knows that we have to use the means available to reach out to young people, [and] social sites let us do that in a way they understand," says Father David Toups, associate director of Committee for Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations at USCCB.

Even Pope Benedict XVI has expressed that the church should embrace the new digital era in his message for the upcoming World Communications Day, saying, "Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ." As part of that effort, the pope is even podcasting prayers in Portuguese, leading up to his visit to Portugal later this month.

So what about his recent warning at a conference on the ills and shortcomings of the Internet? Apparently, His Holiness is actually a fan of the Web so long as the Web doesn't become an all-consuming situation for any given person. "Certainly, wherever people are, the church needs to be there, and that includes the Internet, but there also has to be a balance," Toups tells me. "As Thomas Aquinas would say, 'Moderation in all things.' "

The Catholic Church Turns to Social Networks to Recruit | Culture