Terry Mattingly—Nearer, my ‘Confession’ app, to thee

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In London, The Times opened its story by claiming: "Roman Catholic bishops have approved a new iPhone and iPad app that allows users to make confession with a virtual 'priest' over the Internet."

The Economic Times report was even more blunt. The headline noted, "No time to visit church? Confess via iPhone." Then the opening lines went further still, stating: "Users of iPhone can now perform contrition and other religious rituals without visiting church, thanks to a new online application."

The problem is that these statements were just plain wrong. There is no such thing as a "virtual" priest or a "virtual" sacrament. How could electronic devices allow believers to "perform ... other religious rituals"?

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchMediaReligion & CultureScience & Technology* Religion News & CommentaryOther ChurchesRoman CatholicPope Benedict XVI* TheologyPastoral Theology

5 Comments
Posted February 25, 2011 at 6:00 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. RandomJoe wrote:

This whole business got me thinking…

There’s probably a cannon law answer for this, but if you had a bidirectional authenticated encrypted communication channel, do the two parties in a confession have to be in the same place?

February 25, 10:25 am | [comment link]
2. Branford wrote:

RandomJoe - a similar situation would be confession over the phone, and that for the Roman Catholic Church is not a valid confession. From Catholic Answers:

There are a number of reasons why confession by phone or internet is not valid.

1. the penitent cannot be reasonbly certain, in many cases, that the confessor is a priest or bishop.

2. priests only have faculties to hear confession under the authority of the local Bishop, in their own diocese, or with permission in another diocese. Confession by phone or internet would often violate the authority of the local Bishop.

3. the confessor hearing confessions in a Catholic church can be reasonbly certain that he is dispensing the Sacrament to those able to validly receive it; but by phone or internet, there would be no reasonable way to determine if the penitent is a baptized Christian and a Catholic.

4. Christ dispensed Sacraments in person, and all those He sent to dispense Sacraments do so in person. No one can be baptized by proxy, as some foolish persons have claimed. Similarly, no one can receive confession, except in person.

And from the Vatican Pontifical Council for Social Communications:

Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no sacraments on the Internet.

February 25, 11:19 am | [comment link]
3. RandomJoe wrote:

Interesting.

Of the four points you listed, 1 and 3 are authentication issues, which is why I specified an authenticated channel. Clearly the technology exists to have reasonable mutual authentication, which wouldn’t exist with a simple phone call (though I’m a bit unclear why in 3 the confessor cares that the person is baptized - yes, it wouldn’t be a valid sacrament, but the confession might be defective for a whole host of reasons - the presumption when someone walks up to a confessional is that they intend to make a valid one…)

2 represents a jurisdictional issue, but again, that could clearly be handled.

Only 4 represents a real consideration in my mind.

thank you.

February 25, 11:53 am | [comment link]
4. Branford wrote:

RandomJoe - I think that’s why the Vatican council talks about the sacraments occurring in “shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community” - even if the community is only the priest and the person confessing. It’s the personal contact that is so essential - between the priest acting as Christ’s representative and the penitent.

February 25, 12:07 pm | [comment link]
5. Hursley wrote:

Sacraments are physical, tangible, realities. Just as a mail-order or “virtual” communion makes no sense, neither does a tele-confession. Whenever we move away from this, we venture from incarnation towards incantation. They are not compatible.

February 26, 5:07 pm | [comment link]
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