Considering that there’s an iPhone app for just about everything, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that some entrepreneurial folks decided to branch out into the sphere of religion. But the controversy over a new iPhone app which would allow Catholics to confess using their phones led the Vatican to release a statement, explaining that no, technology is not a replacement for a priest.
“One cannot speak in any way of confessing via iPhone,” Father Federico Lombardi explained. This is because, logically, confession requires the physical presence of both the penitent and the priest. “This cannot be substituted by any IT application,” Lombardi said.
The way that the app’s inventors envisioned it functioning is unclear. Initial reports claimed that the app would not replace going to confession, but would rather “help Catholics through the act.” Why exactly this is necessary is not obvious, because Catholics have been figuring out confession without the help of their iPhones for quite some time now. The creators explained that they were helping people deepen their faith through technology, responding to the pope’s injunction to raise the Christian presence in the digital world. The company that marketed the app said that it had been approved (given imprimatur) by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne, who is presumably now in trouble with the Vatican.
Some people, specifically Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, scolded the media for their “irresponsible” headlines, which he claims led readers to believe that the app would replace confession. And yes, the coverage of this small controversy was a little sensational. But it also, frankly, sounds like a confusing app, and for people who don’t know much about the sacrament of confession, it sounds more extreme (and bizarre) than it is. From the start, the app was about preparing to go to confession; it was not designed to replace confession. And although many blogs clarified this, some did not.
Either way, the whole incident is a nice little fable about just how obsessed with technology we can be. And perhaps the pope will be more careful the next time he extols “new media at the service of the world.”
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.