We'll take a look at exactly what the Confession app is...and more importantly what it isn't.
First, the iPhone app is not a substitute. Absolution can only be given the way it has been in the past. The app doesn't change that.
|Image from engadget.com|
The application is a guide to help people make a good Examination of Conscience before going to Confession. The application also allows people to write down a list of their sins so they can confess them once they're talking with their confessor. Last (but not least) the application has the entire Rite printed out so that it is easy to follow, all the way down to the Rite of Contrition.
Many of you who go to confession regularly are probably thinking: "I already do that!" I'm pretty good at sinning, so when I do have to go to confession, I have to write down a long list as well. But the app is geared for people who are unfamiliar or wary of going to confession. The appeal of the app is that it reaches out to people who are estranged or have drifted away from the Church. The hope is that an app like this can make it easier for people to encounter the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
While endorsements can be helpful, they've also created a slew of headlines that tend to trivialize a time that can be healing and life-giving for people. Bishop Kevin Rhodes, recently installed bishop of Fort Wayne, IN, has given his support to this app. Fr. Edward Beck CP, a contributor to ABC News, has also given his endorcement of the application, saying: "I think this app may be a boon for the sacrament." Unfortunately I had to wade through many articles entitled: "Forgiveness via iPhone" and other attention-getters. More about the Church's endorcement can be found at the iTunes Store here.
As a friar trying to bridge the gap between technology and faith, I'm still on the fence on this application. I agree with the makers that Pope Benedict has called us to enter into dialogue with technology to spread the Gospel, and making Reconciliation easier for people is definitely one way to do it. I also think that, once all the rhetorical headlines are torn down, the app can be a tool for people to discuss the actual Sacrament to others who might not understand. Technology offers a lot of gifts, and I am always willing to use technology to further the Message of Jesus.
However, from my experience, introducing new technology into traditional rites is a tricky business. Using a phone in a prayer space, even if only to check your schedule, is still considered to be disrespectful. Clicking away on your iPad while others are waiting in line at the confessional can be seen as rude, annoying, or disturbing. Pastors already deal with parishoners who text during Mass as well. Typing your sins away or scrolling through them in the confessional is not likely to be taken well.
That doesn't mean that the Confession app doesn't have its place, or that it can't be integrated. I just feel, in my humble opinion, that discretion is the best idea when using this tool. From personal experience I've found that if you go into Confession, sit face-to-face with the confessor, and explain that you haven't confessed in a long time, a good confessor will welcome you back and give you some tips on how to better incorporate the Sacrament into your life.