Confessing Sin In The Age Of The iPhone

A nun holds a cell phone i i

The New Confession: The Roman Catholic app is not a substitute for confession, but it's supposed to help believers prepare to bare their sins to a priest. Toby Melville/PA Wire/Press Association via AP hide caption

itoggle caption Toby Melville/PA Wire/Press Association via AP
A nun holds a cell phone

The New Confession: The Roman Catholic app is not a substitute for confession, but it's supposed to help believers prepare to bare their sins to a priest.

Toby Melville/PA Wire/Press Association via AP

You haven't been to confession lately? Grab your iPhone.

Confession: A Roman Catholic App is now available for $1.99 on the iPhone and iPad. Designers say it's not meant to replace your priest, but to help believers prepare to bare their sins.

The idea was prompted by a speech that Pope Benedict XVI gave last year, in which he called on the Catholic Church to bring the Gospel to people through new technologies. That got Patrick Leinen, his brother and a friend to thinking: What about confession?

Leinen, an Internet programmer and faithful Catholic, decided to bring this most revered of Catholic practices to the technology nearest you — or, at least, those of you with Apples. He says many people are intimidated by confession, so they wanted to design an app that would walk you "in baby steps" through an "examination of conscience," and help you prepare for the real thing.

The beauty of the app, Leinen says, is that the sins can be tailored to you: Just type in your age, gender, marital status and last confession.

"So the idea is, a mother wouldn't get the same examination as a teenager," he says, "and a teenager wouldn't get the same examination as a Catholic priest. And so, in a way, you can get a very user-specific experience."

It's not a Vatican app, but the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, says that's what Jesus would do.

"Jesus didn't consider talking about mustard seeds and birds of the air beneath him, so if Jesus could talk about the birds of the air, then we can tweet and we can use apps," he says.

The questions on the confession app seem to cover everything. Have I ever deliberately told a lie in confession? Have I abused alcohol or drugs? Have I given scandal to anyone, thereby leading them into sin? Have I pouted and been moody? It asks about your last confession, your prayer life, your sex life.

Elizabeth Baker, a 22-year-old production assistant at NPR, was a little taken aback by the questions.

"Oh my God!" she said, laughing. "Are you kidding me? Have I been guilty of masturbation? Have I not sought to control my thoughts?"

But for Alex Gardiner, a 42-year-old mother of three and chief financial officer at an investment firm, the questions were perfect preparation for seeing a priest.

"It's very thorough," she says. "I think this is a very good thing, because then you can sit here and hit the highlights."

The question is, will the app have its intended effect and persuade people to go see a priest?

"No, I feel like I got it over with by doing this," Baker says.

But Gardiner says she's going to borrow her husband's iPad and prepare for confession, which she hasn't done for two years.

"I should have gone a few months ago, and this will encourage me," she says. "I think it's a great tool, and if it's used as a tool, it's a good way to examine your conscience."

The Rev. Dan Scheidt, of the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Ind., says the "response has been favorable and overwhelming."

Scheidt, who advised the programmers in designing the app, says several people in his parish have arrived at the confessional clutching an iPhone.

"The confessions seemed focused, well-organized and at ease using the technology," he says.

Which brings a side benefit: Focused and organized confessions are a blessing for priests, as well.

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