Posted by: L. E. Barnes | February 10, 2011

No iPhone Confessions!

In a scene in the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, the protagonist (played by Allen) has to confess his transgressions to a computer, which then flashes the word Absolved! to the sound of bells and whistles. The unveiling of a new iPhone app this week apparently gave some the impression that the Church was taking the rite of confession in such a direction. “Confession: A Roman Catholic App” has received an imprimatur (something I had thought was only given to books or other publications, not a technology), but the Vatican still felt the need to clarify the app’s boundaries.

A recent CNN report explains:

The Vatican qualified its support for “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” on Wednesday, a day after the program’s developer announced it was the first app to have official church blessing.

“It is essential to understand well the sacrament of penitence requires the personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor and the absolution by the confessor,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters on Wednesday. “This cannot in any way be replaced by a technology application.”

“One cannot talk in any way about a ‘confession via iPhone,’ ” Lombardi said.

Instead, the app is simply meant to aid the faithful as they prepare for and go to confession:

The app has three parts.

The first is an examination of conscience that’s designed to help Catholics prepare for confession before stepping into the confessional, “so you don’t walk in and just start making up sins off the top of your head,” Leinen said.

The second part features step-by-step instructions for what to do inside the confessional.

The last part is a space to record any absolution or penance from the priest.

So thankfully, we’ll still be making confessions in person with a live priest who is acting in persona Christi. Let’s pray it stays that way!



  1. (something I had thought was only given to books or other publications, not a technology)

    In a way, the app is a text, so imprimatur (“let it be printed”) makes sense.

    Since the app runs on a phone, people initially thought that one could call a priest, like there would be banks of priest operators (“Catholic customer service”) on call 24 hrs. Hey, that wouldn’t be so bad!

    I had heard that users might take the appliance into the confessional with them (as parts two and three seem to suggest) but I can’t imagine that. I mean, the screen glow would make one’s face visible to the priest. As for the first part, well, books aplenty are available. My parish stocks examination of conscience pamphlets outside the box and can be gone over as one waits in line.

  2. Thank God the Catholic Church insists on the sacraments being celebrated in person. It may be the last place on earth where the individual retains his personhood.

    • and I hope it stays that way!

  3. I’m sure it will stay that way. This is “much ado about…” well, not nothing; actually, I think it’s a great tool. If nothing else, it saves the paper that would otherwise have to be used to print examination of consciences. Lots of people do face to face confession, so the glow wouldn’t be a big deal. But I can only comment from the outside because I (un)cordially loathe all cell phones, and I will never carry an app-able phone!!!!

    • This app, while certainly not for everyone, sounds like it’s ok. Apparently there was concern that people would be able to make confessions via phone or email rather than in the confessional with a priest. Fortunately, that’s not the case. While I don’t loathe cell phones, I do feel that we’ve become too “wired” and addicted to our gadgets.

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