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Confession? There's an app for that

February 16, 2011

Q. A new app for the iPhone and iPad allows people to make confession with a virtual priest. According to its makers, the “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” which is on sale at Apple's iTunes store, offers “a personalized examination of conscience for each user.”

The user enters personal data such as sex, age and marital status, and is presented with a list of check-boxes to describe their sins and who, if anyone, they've offended. A second page allows the penitent to enter a list of lapses. Pressing the “finish” button brings up a random spiritual quote from a Catholic saint. The app also displays lists of prayers and the Acts of Contrition.

The makers have stressed that the app isn't supposed to replace attending confession in person, and senior members of the Catholic Church in America and the UK have approved the program. Its makers say they were inspired by a recent speech by the Pope in which he urged Christians to use new digital and social media.

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Is this app a good idea and could it be a benefit to believers? Or does the idea of “confessing” to a piece of software devalue the sacrament and trivialize its importance? Are there any other similar religious rites that you'd like to see appear on phones and computers?

Why not? All prayer is good. If this keeps prayer in front of people, then I’m all for it.

I doubt it will replace, or ever be seen as replacing, confession in person to a priest. The whole beauty of confession is that while we know intellectually that God forgives us, sometimes we need to hear it said out loud by a real live person. I think the iPhone app is more along the lines of intellectual knowing, and people will still seek out the real live person when they need to hear the love.

In the Episcopal tradition, more takes place during confession than the absolution. It’s really more like spiritual direction, where there’s some dialogue, some comfort, some advice, maybe a recommendation for how to free the soul further. You can’t really get that from an app — at least not yet.

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