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Catholic Church seeks priests among unemployed young Spaniards

March 21, 2012 | 12:34 pm

REPORTING FROM MADRID -- Spain has Europe’s highest unemployment rate, but one organization here is boasting plenty of job openings: the Roman Catholic Church.

A group of Spanish bishops has produced a recruitment video telling job-seekers, “I do not offer you a great salary. I promise you a permanent job.” It’s a tempting message in a dismal economy where one in four workers is out of a job, including nearly half of people under 25.

The promo video begins with a voice asking: “How many promises have they made you, which never were fulfilled?” Then nine priests take turns staring into the camera, extolling the practical merits of priesthood, particularly to those hurt by Spain’s weakened economy and the debt crisis.

“I do not promise you a perfect job. I promise you will be part of an amazing project,” one says.

“I do not promise you will live a luxurious life. I promise your wealth will be eternal,” says another.

Lifelong celibacy as a job requirement goes unmentioned.

The average salary for priests in Spain is about $1,000 a month,  less than the national average, but well above the poverty line for an individual earner. If housing is free, as is the case for many seminarians, that wage places them about equal to their single male peers in their 20s and 30s.

Despite Spain’s sharp turn toward secularism, the Roman Catholic Church does appear to be winning some recruits in this economy. The number of priests in Spain rose more than 4% last year, according to church figures, in stark contrast to a 25% decrease over the last decade.

In the recruitment video, promising an exciting life, testimonies are interspersed with images of priests in golden robes, who are shown marrying couples, praying over a man in a jail and a woman in a hospital bed. Another image shows young priests lying down side by side on the floor of a church. There is no mention of nuns or female recruitment.

“You will be with people who are suffering. You will confirm those who want to be strong. You will experience true happiness,” the voices say.

The two-and-a-half minute video is stamped with the emblem of Spain’s Episcopal Conference, a grouping of Catholic bishops, and appeared on the conference’s YouTube channel last week, before the celebration of the “Day of the Priest” held Monday. In a statement on its website, the conference said it designed the video hoping it would be shared on social networking sites.

More than 70% of Spaniards consider themselves Catholic, but less than 15% go to church regularly. Contrary to Catholic teaching, same-sex marriage and abortion are now legal in Spain.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Madrid in August for the Vatican’s World Youth Day, he was greeted by thousands of demonstrators angry about  government funding for the papal visit, at a time when ordinary Spaniards were suffering pay cuts and other austerity measures.

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-- Lauren Frayer

Video: YouTube video from Spain's Episcopal Conference.

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