Whither Thou, Reconciliation?

Maureen Dowd and NPR report on a new iPhone app which is supposed to provide a “cheat sheet” for confession. Ideally, this app will get Catholics back in the box. It asks you questions according to your gender, age and state of life: for example, if you are a woman, have you had an abortion or encouraged anyone to get one? (Do men get asked if they have caused any abortions? Didn’t think so.) Children are asked about pouting or bad language. Priests are asked if they flirt, but not if they are “guilty of homosexual activity.”

I’m reminded of the Middle Ages and its Manuals of Confession, designed to leave no stone of sin unturned, especially those of a sexual nature. It all seems a bit prurient to me—whatever happened to the so-called “Sacrament of Reconciliation” where one was encouraged to sit down, face-to-face, with a priest, and just kind of, like, rap? Maybe not even about “sin” per se, but about the great difficulty of maintaining one’s faith and goodness in a fallen world? If an iPhone asked me if I have ever been guilty of “occult activities” or “masturbating” I would toss it out, run it over with with my car several times while telling it exactly where it could go, which I don’t technically think would be a sin since I would be swearing at and destroying an inanimate object.

This app is emphatically not a substitute for the actual sacrament, which is, at heart, about two people talking. But what is more annoying than people playing with their iPhones while you are actually trying to talk to them? Now this is going to be allowed to happen during a sacrament? What if somebody, iPhone in hand, gets a little bored and starts checking his email, shopping, or looking at porn in confession? It’s totally going to happen. Cause it already happens all the time in secular circumstances. “I have been guilty of. I am guilty of. I am actually looking at porn right now and getting aroused, Father.” Or, at the very least “One-Click. Your Amazon order will arrive in two days.” “What? Oh, thank you, Father.”

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.