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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  • Frank H

    Fr. Z has just posted a very in-depth review of this app at his blog.

  • Kassie @ secretvaticanspy.com

    I actually thought this was a brilliant idea – and promptly purchased the app. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this might be seen as a middle ground, but I’m a twenty-year-old convert that will be fully received into the church at Easter Vigil, so maybe I’m just reveling in the glowiness of convert zeal. In my opinion, however, if a Catholic is going to seek a middle ground, they’re going to seek a middle ground, period. App or no app. I certainly understand the concern, and can see how the app might contribute to the attitude, but I don’t think it will cause that attitude in and of itself. I hope to be able to go phone-free in the confessional before long, as I don’t appreciate how disrespectfully my generation can be with phone usage (and I am definitely guilty of it myself), but in the meantime, I LOVE the “guiding hand”.

  • SteveM

    The irony is that a lot of iPhone addicts should probably try to give up the device for Lent.

  • Bill

    CNN typically misrepresented this new application on this morning’s news, flatly stating that with this there was no longer a need to physically go to confession…

    …and that it had been “approved by the Holy See.”

    I immediately thought, “That can’t possibly be right!” After all, everyone should know that the Church would *never* so trivialize a Sacrament!

    Lord knows how many folks have asked me via net groups, BBS forums, web forums and email over the past thirty-odd years if they could make an “on line confession,” to which I quite correctly said, “No way, Jose!” :)

    I operated “Vocations Central BBS” for almost fifteen of those years, and trust me, if there was any possibility of confusion about the “Whys and Wherefores” of our faith, I’ve heard it all.

    [If you heard that from CNN, I hope you write them an email about it? admin]

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  • Oafinemess

    Yes, I like it so far. It needs work as everything.
    Some if the questions are vague enough that if someone got your phone or device and figured out the password, they would still not know the complete detail – who what when where. So you asked two, that isn’t many. As someone who does suffer from anxiety, this will give enough jiggle and what I need. Now, we know that technically only mortal sins have to be forgiven before communion, or
    Should- but frequent confession not only adds grace to resist but also keeps us in our toes in working at overcoming our habitual sins.
    Those fallen away may it may not benefit because I still think a lot if praying will be the best help for them. Maybe it will lead
    Those confused to asking more.
    Must everything be very exhaustive – I mean they do have phone and can look some things up for themselves like church if they need to speak with someone. I think it will help some. Plus, getting people to think or ask what is confession is halfway there.

    [Actually that's one of the big concerns I have - privacy. If an iphone is hackable, it just seems like something I'd be leery of - admin]

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a complete replacement for in-person confession, but the fact that it is sanctioned makes it all the more interesting.
    http://www.experts123.com/questions/filter/iphones-1380198

  • ND EnviroChick

    I know Fr. Dan (he is my sister’s pastor) and I can say without question that he would NOT intend this as a replacement for confession. He preaches constantly about the need for confession and his desire as a pastor to see his flock lined up outside the confessional before every Mass. He is sincerely earnest about the grace that this sacrament brings to those who receive it, and I think this is the impetus for the development of the app.

  • Kozaburo

    Seems to me that there may be some very real privacy issues here, regardless of the fact that it isn’t a full-on “confession”. Someone knows who downloaded the app. Someone knows what the user selected. Who knows how the app interfaces with other apps, cookies, etc.? Even if the app isn’t designed for data harvesting, who’s to say that the data can’t be accessed via other apps?

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Sounds like a great idea. As long as it’s clear this is only a helping guide to confession and not confession itself, then why not. I look up the confessional process on the internet before I go. I’m always insecure that I’ll do it wrong.

    This may sound like a really dumb question, but what’s the difference between a website that you download, a podacst, and an “app”? I’m not hip on current techonology. ;)

  • jeff

    I agree with Fr. Z. I’m amazed that the existing app does not put front and center that it is not a substitute for the real thing.

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  • KentuckyCatholic

    I believe your reservations regarding the app becoming a “middle ground” for people to decide not to take advantage of the sacrament are unwarranted. There are a hundred such “middle grounds” already in place (Protestantism, to name just one) that Catholics are using as an excuse to stay away.

    If a person would use this as an excuse not to go, they will use one of the other 999 if it does not exist.

    And, I believe a lot of people stay away from the sacrament because they do not know how to properly examine their conscience or what to expect once inside the confessional. I believe that prepared people are more likely to take advantage of it.

    I really do not see a downside.

  • KentuckyCatholic

    Hello Manny.

    A download is any content you take from a website and put on your phone/computer. It can be a song, picture, podcast, app, etc.

    A podcast is audio content. For instance, EWTN has podcasts of their radio programs. If you want to listen to EWTN Open Line, you can download the podcast onto your phone, computer, etc. and listen at your convenience. Depending on the source, they are usually available on the source’s website from a few minutes after the program ends to 24 hours later.

    An “app” is short for application. It is a computer program that you download to help you do something. The subject of this article is an example of an “app.”

  • Roughcoat

    Gabriel Malor is a denizen of the Ace of Spades blog. With, perhaps, the exception of Malor, that blog is a cesspool of foul-mouthed macho posturing, ad hominem attacks, and rank stupidity. It’s a place where men talk tough and mean from the safety of their keyboards. They make reasoned discourse and good-faith disagreement impossible.

  • Manny

    Thank you so much. So an “app” is interactive?

  • KentuckyCatholic

    It can be but not necessarily. You could download an app to your phone that tells you the local weather 24/7. That is not really something that is interactive but would still be an app.

  • Manny

    Thank you much. :)

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  • http://semperjase.com Jason

    I just don’t understand the confusion. I wouldn’t think the confession app absolved me any more than I would think a shopping list app would be actual buy groceries.

    [Apparently CNN thought so. They reported that the app would take the place of confession -admin]

  • http://thepagantemple.blogspot.com/ ThePaganTemple

    I’m not a Catholic, but here’s my take on it anyway. It seems to me like it would give you the opportunity to make a good “practice run” at a real confession. But there again, isn’t the real value of the confessional at least in part the outpouring and sharing of your feelings with the Priest in the confessional? If you use this ap like a dress rehearsal to help you make a better confession, are you really going to make a better confession-or just a more polished one? And if the latter, aren’t you in danger of losing something in the process?

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  • TotaTua

    I find the app very useful during Compline to add to my list. Fear that some might misuse the app shouldn’t keep it away from those who like it.


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