A Lean Year for Seminaries in French-Speaking Switzerland

Facing a Generation Drawn to Prayer -- But Not the Priesthood

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FRIBOURG, Switzerland, OCT. 3, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The harvest in French-speaking Switzerland may be bountiful, but the laborers are few.



This year, not a single young man entered the seminaries there, a crisis situation that has the local Church taking a hard look at itself.

Father Jean-Blaise Fellay, spiritual director of the diocesan seminary of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, in Villars-sur-Glane, believes that the phenomenon might be due to the pedophilia scandals involving priests. But he also pointed to other reasons.

In general, between five and 10 youths enter the seminaries of French-speaking Switzerland every year. But not this year, Father Fellay stated in the Sept. 28 issue of La Liberté newspaper. The priest is also director of the Interdiocesan Center of Theological Formation.

Part of the problem can be blamed on the media, he contended.

"The following equation is promoted: 'Clergy' equals 'sexual problems,'" even though "nine out of 10 problems of sexual abuse take place in the context of the family," Father Fellay said. Yet, the image of the priest is not good, he acknowledged.

The crisis affects the laity -- mothers who are catechists and married deacons, who "need relief," Father Fellay added.

While young Swiss are generally perceived as praying more and being more open to religious issues than their 1970s counterparts, the leap to the priesthood is still difficult for them.

"Here we have seminarians who come from the professional world -- a lawyer, a bank director, an engineer. When they become priests they will only earn 3,000 Swiss francs," noted Father Fellay. "Great motivation is needed to commit oneself."

But there is hope. In French-speaking Switzerland vocations are arising within the new ecclesial movements.

One example is the recently formed Eucharistein community, founded in Switzerland by Nicholas Butteta, a former hermit. It already has two theology students at the University of Fribourg, and two are beginning their preparation for the priesthood.

In Paris, meanwhile, two-thirds of the seminarians come from new movements. "The value of the priesthood is very strong in them," Father Fellay explained.