iPhone for Lent: A Confession App? – UPDATED

Gabriel Malor sent this my way, with the note: “very cool!”

Catholic Church OK New Confession App for iPhone.

An iPhone app aimed at helping Catholics through confession and encouraging lapsed followers back to the faith has been sanctioned by the Catholic Church in the United States.

Well, no, that’s an extremely misleading headline and lede. The “Catholic Church” has not approved the app; Bishop Kevin Rhoades, of the Diocese of Fort Wayne in Indiana, has given his imprimatur, though. The app, which was designed by two priests, Father Thomas Weinandy of the USCCB, and Father Dan Scheidt, a pastor from Mishawaka, Indiana.

Confession: A Roman Catholic app, thought to be the first to be approved by a church authority, walks Catholics through the sacrament and contains what the company behind the program describes as a “personalized examination of conscience for each user”.

“Our desire is to invite Catholics to engage in their faith through digital technology,” said Patrick Leinen of the three-man company Little iApps, based in South Bend, Indiana.

“Taking to heart Pope Benedict XVI’s message from last years’ World Communications Address, our goal with this project is to offer a digital application that is truly ‘new media at the service of the word.”

The app is not designed to replace going to confession but to help Catholics through the act, which generally involves admitting sins to a priest in a confessional booth. Catholics still must go to a priest for absolution.

Leinen said the app has already aided one man in returning to the sacrament after 20 years.

On the surface it sure does seem pretty cool, and hey, I’m with the Pope – interactive and alternative media and gadgetry, when it can be used to teach, evangelize and serve – it’s great.

But this one worries me a little. I like the idea of someone being able to access information about confession, and even that users can be guided through an examination of conscience and encouraged to avail themselves of the sacrament.

My fear, though is that rather than encourage people into the confessional, the app will make it seem unnecessary . Regardless of how many times the app-writers insist that the thing is not meant to “replace” confession, our natures tend to choose the path of least resistance. It is not inconceivable (in fact, it is quite conceivable) that for a Catholic who has been away from confession for a while — one who perhaps has forgotten the powerful psychological and spiritual cleansing effect of speaking one’s sins aloud, or has never understood the value of the graces the sacrament imparts — the app may very well end up feeling like the convenient “middle ground” between not going to confession or going with reluctance.

For Catholics who are poorly catechized, poorly trained in the faith, this app seems to me to be one of those irresistible shiny objects that, when grabbed, proves to be a double-edged sword.

Not trusting my own instincts, I asked a couple of young men — both techno-crazed young Catholics neither of whom are “devout” or have been to confession in a couple of years — what they thought of the app, and whether my concerns were baseless. One liked the idea of an app that could help you get a real sense of where you’re failing but said he would never use the app precisely because of the potential for self-deception: “the temptation to call it a done deal and not bother going to confession would be huge.” The app could effectively put the last nail in the confession coffin, he thought.

The second fellow first asked me if the church had approved it, and when I told him a bishop had, thought about it for a minute and decided that he disliked the whole idea of the app. “I haven’t been to confession since I was a kid,” he said. “if I used the app and took an inventory of myself like that, it might scare me away completely.”

Or, of course, it might put the force and depths of your failures before you and inspire you to seek out the sacrament. Sigh. Clearly, I am torn.

As the King said, “is a puzzlement.” What do you think?

Leave a comment or answer my poll question at this link until I figure out how to embed it:
Do you like the Confession App idea?survey software

UPDATE I: Father Z has a very good examination of the app, including pictures. He says:

All in all, it is useful. But there are flaws.

In a next version, I think the very first thing that the user should see is a message that this is NOT a substitute for confession. This is only a tool to help make a good confession. […] The app is good, but needs some additions in order to be very good.

Go check it out!

UPDATE II: Deacon Greg has links to more writers covering this, and he’s not even being curmudgeonly about the fact that he actually wrote about this ten days ago. So he was ahead of the curve!

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About Elizabeth Scalia