Confession by iPhone

The Roman Catholic Church, which hasn’t always seen face-to-face with modernity, has embraced at least one product of the digital age. The BBC reports that senior officials in the Church in the U.S. and the U.K. have approved a Confession iPhone app. “The app takes users through the sacrament – in which Catholics admit their wrongdoings – and allows them to keep track of their sins. It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status – but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely. Instead, it encourages users to understand their actions and then visit their priest for absolution.” The approval follows a January speech by the Pope in which he said, “I invite young people above all to make good use of their presence in the digital world.” Here’s another take, from Lou Wigdor. (HT: LLP) [%comments]

Happy Valentine's Day.

iConfession that I love you ...


It should really be called an "Examination of Conscience" App, as that is the the step in Reconciliation it is attempting to aid. Seems like a good idea to me.

Dan Aris

I'm a bit surprised to see this story show up without the counterpoint; a number of websites reported that the Vatican had stated in no uncertain terms that this app *cannot* replace in-person confession with a priest.


I'm guess that entries into the app aren't covered under priest-patient priviledge.

michael ellis

iConfession is probably safer for the kids, especially in Philadelphia.


@Matt: As one of the developers, we named it that because it was meant to not only provide an examination of conscience, but also an aid to walk through the process of confession. When it was being reviewed in a strictly Catholic media/blog world, everyone understood its function and purpose. It wasn't until the general media picked up the story that things were misunderstood. We never expected the story to get as big as it did (who would have thought that this little app would even get a spot on the freakonomics blog), so we never anticipated all of the "controversy" that was caused. We picked it up as just a fun project that all 3 of us could see ourselves using in our daily lives. We've tried to go back and emphasize the fact that it is not a replacement for the Sacrament by updating our code with Apple to state just that fact.


There have been "Examinations of Conscience" booklets, pamphlets, and chapters in missals and other worship aids for a very long time. Catholic churches often have stacks of them for the taking. A list of questions following the Ten Commandments is a common format. You can find different versions for adults and children and so on. The fact that this one is on an electronic device instead of paper really doesn't make a difference. It would be no different from an app that downloaded the day's Bible readings from Mass for you to read every day as opposed to reading them out of a daily missal, or sends you a blurb about the Saint of the Day. You can already subscribe to those things by email, and no doubt there is or will be an app for those soon too.

The Vatican has had to remind people before that only in person confession is sacramental--not by letter, then not by phone, then not by email or electronic chat. Every new technology, someone asks the question.

The problem is calling it a "confession" app because that may confuse people, although I suppose it did garner more attention than calling it "Examination of Conscience" would. "Confession Preparation" would have been better.


Joe Dougherty

In fact, "Reconciliation Preparation" would be an even better term, since, officially, what was once the Sacrament of Confession is now called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The title of the sacrament was changed to provide a more meaningful description of what the process hopes to accomplish. People (especially non-Catholics) have this ill-conceived perception that Catholics go into the confessional (also not always the case), read off a list of their sins, say they're sorry and leave with a penance of a handful of Hail, Marys, Our Fathers or a recital of the rosary.

In fact, our faith instructs us that the purpose of Reconciliation is an opportunity to examine the things we have done wrong, especially how we have wronged others and distanced ourselves from the goodness of God's grace. We are reminded that we need to face up to our sins, agree not to commit them again and pray for guidance and forgiveness, not just from God, but for those we have wronged.

We frequently are instructed to pray the Hail, Mary because it is a reminder to us of Mary's intercession to God on our behalf. We don't pray to Mary as though she's on the same level as God (nothing is on the same level as God), but that she intercede with God on our behalf.

The purpose and meaning of Reconciliation is something that must be done from the mind and the heart. Those places are far more meaningful and hold more power than a cell phone.



In other words, Catholicism: There's an app for that...
At its deepest root, the Church is a brand, they are just trying to survive. So I can't say that I blame them. Here are some other things the Church does to keep their brand alive.

Lou Wigdor

In spite of codeveloper Chip's hedging above, the appearance of the product /app primes the potential buyer for something more than mere prepping for confession. (Alas, such are the ways of marketing) With that said, I have tweaked my own blog entry(, linked to at the end of the main Freakonomics entry, to reflect the preparatory mission of the app. Take it from a lapsed Jew, It's the Christian thing to do!


I think the app will be great in helping me examine my conscience prior to going to confession. It is basically justt an app version of paper versions I've used in the past. I like it. And Chip's right, the media has totally misconstrued what the app's about, it's not a replacement for confession. Why is it that anything that has to do with the Catholic Church has to be immediately attacked by the media (last summer's misquote of the Pope and condom use in AIDS patients) before it is understood?


Can you send in a video confession to your priest?


Isn't it amazing that the religion of about a quarter of the population of the US and nearly a billion people around the world is covered with the kind of "gee, look at this fascinating and completely foreign culture" attitude last seen in 1970's National Geographic articles about tribes in Africa? The Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have websites full of reference material and the fact that a reporter couldn't be bothered to look up the fact that you can't make an electronic confession appalls me.

Ken Arromdee

"In spite of codeveloper Chip's hedging above, the appearance of the product /app primes the potential buyer for something more than mere prepping for confession."

Umm, what makes you think so? Because not having much knowledge of confession, that's what it looks like to you?

Just because it's not obvious to you doesn't mean it's not obvious to its intended audience.

sean samis

"Our Father who art in the Cloud, digital be thy name. Thy face page come, thy tweets be done in cyber space as it is in 3D. ...

gotta work on this ...


I have a Android mobile phone, does that mean I am going to hell?


Have we forgotten that we live in an age where "Privacy is dead, get over it." Confession, or even examining one's conscience via a media which is subject to hacking and/or archival and examination by third parties is absolutely brilliant! I can already see the leaks from various and sundry politicians and celebrities being blasted on the nightly news.


This app seems ridiculous, although it may seem like a good idea to bring relief to those who feel that it would help, i think that by creating such an app, we have distanced religion from what it was supposed to be.. a relationship with God, and by distancing ourselves by creating an app to confess it seems like we have gone too far.