SCOTLAND'S Catholic church has launched its biggest recruitment drive for the priesthood in generations amid ongoing concerns over a rapidly ageing clergy.
As the number of priests in parts of Scotland is predicted to drop by 100 in the next two decades, young men in parishes across the country will be encouraged into the vocation as the church seeks to attract its next generation to the pulpit.
Figures from around a decade ago showed the number of Scots entering the priesthood had dropped to one or two a year, with Blairs College, the main entrance for teenagers seeking to join closing in the late 1980s.
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But while the number of priests in Scotland appears to be hurtling towards one of its lowest points since the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, when the curbs of the Reformation were lifted almost 150 years ago, the church said there was evidence of "green shots of recovery" with a sustained rise in those now in training.
With the number now training in the Scots College in Rome standing at 20, the Church is now seeking to capitalise on what it believes is a growing interest in religious life amongst a generation of males in their 20s.
All 500 Catholic parishes throughout Scotland will be receive copies of a new magazine this weekend focusing on young men currently studying at the Scots College in Rome, with the church believing personal testimonies are one of the most effective tools for selling the religious life.
John Keenan, president of the church’s national vocations agency and Bishop of Paisley, said: “As I go round our parishes, schools and youth events I see, every day, young or single men who’d make ideal priests and I’m sure God is calling many of them to be priests for Scotland.
"But they won’t come forward unless they hear God’s call. Today God calls them through modern media so I want everyone to take a copy of Priests for Scotland and put it in the hands of a man you think might be being called. You just might have found Scotland a new priest and God won’t forget it.”
The drive comes amid some grim figures for the church, with the number of priests dropping in the Galloway Diocese from 55 to 23 in the quarter century from 1990, and the St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese predicting it will have only 30 priests in 2035, down from around 130 now.
Hit by the same secularisation effecting all Christian churches in the UK, parishes also rely upon overseas priests, primarily from Africa and Eastern Europe and who see Scotland as "missionary terrain", with one priest recently training parishioners to carry out funerals.
But the church insists the new push is about making it self-sufficient, with parishes reliant during its era of packed congregations upon a massive influx of Irish priests. With bishops currently going through major upheaval by reorganising their dioceses and reducing the number of churches and parishes it also insists the projected clergy numbers are not so bleak when seen as a ratio per parishioner.
One source said: "This is the important number. We have around one priest to 250. In Latin American this can be one to 10,000. In Africa one to as many as 40,000. The number of those in training has been gradually rising and its now a definitive trend. We now want to build on that."
Father John Morrison, assistant director of the Priests for Scotland campaign drive, said: “We wanted to let people know that there are still men who are being drawn to the priesthood. We wanted to communicate some of the joy and happiness they have felt in responding positively to that call.”