October 17th, 2011
06:57 AM ET
By Peter Taggart, for CNN
The Catholic Church in Ireland is going high-tech in a bid to reverse a dramatic decline in the number of priests.
An establishment viewed as a bastion of tradition is turning to a new app to encourage more "applications." The app, says the church, is "designed to promote vocations to the priesthood."
It is being hailed as a "world first" by the church in Ireland.
"The app is an original approach to assist current and future generations seeking to investigate and find information on vocations to the diocesan priesthood in Ireland," a statement issued ahead of the launch said.
The number of new recruits to the priesthood has fallen sharply in the recent decades - and as Ireland has become engulfed in a series of child sex abuse scandals over the past few years.
The situation led to a respected former Catholic bishop in Ireland to call for an end to clerical celibacy.
Edward Daly, the retired bishop of Derry, said allowing clergymen to marry would ease many of the church's problems.
Daly told CNN he was worried about the decreasing number of priests and the number of older priests.
The issue "needs to be addressed and addressed urgently," Daly said, adding he found it "heartbreaking" priests were forced to resign or prospective priests were unable to join the priesthood because of the celibacy rule.
The new 'Vocations' app was designed by Father Paddy Rushe and developed by the company Magic Time Apps, based in Dublin. It is available to download for free from the Apple iPhone App Store, said the church.
Some of the features of the app, according to the church, are: Connection to Twitter and Facebook; Social networking at the service of vocations; Contact details and statistics on the 26 dioceses of Ireland; Frequently asked questions to assist a person to discern his vocation; News feed running from the national vocations website; Novel and cursory 'tests' to enable the user to reflect on vocation potential.
"Future updates will include a "prayer counter" to allow people pledge a period of prayer for vocations and a picture gallery which will include some images from the life of a seminarian," the church statement said.
The launch of the new app marks the official handover from Rushe as the National Coordinator for Diocesan Vocations to Father Willie Purcell and his team, said the church.
The app is part of a campaign promoted on the church website - http://www.vocations.ie - and follows 'Priesthood Sunday,' which was on September 25. The website called it "an opportunity to highlight and promote particularly the vocation to the priesthood."
A statement on the website stressed more priests are needed: "The number of priests per Catholic has declined over the past 40 years. This makes it more difficult for individual parishioners to establish a close relationship with any one particular priest."
"Also, priests are no longer the only ones who offer pastoral care to our people," the statement continued. "Yet without a priest, no parish is able to be a Eucharistic community. It is important to reaffirm the importance of the priesthood of Jesus Christ and its central place in the life of our church."
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