Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Visiting My iPad Confessional

posted by Mark D. Roberts

An op-ed piece in the New York Times alerted me to a new iPhone/iPad app. In “Forgive Me, Father, for I Have Linked,” Maureen Dowd describes one of the newest and most popular apps. It’s called Confession: A Roman Catholic App.

This is no joke. It’s an app that guides one through a process of self-examination that leads to confession and then a suggestion of divine forgiveness. I say “suggestion” because the app does not offer absolution. That’s something only a priest can provide, if you’re a Roman Catholic.

I purchased the app for $1.99 to see how it worked. Here’s what I found:

1. The app asks me to create a user identity, including my name, sex, vocation (marital status), and date of birth.

confession-app-5.jpg

2. Once I have identified myself, the app leads me through an Examination of Conscience based on the Ten Commandments. Under each commandment, questions are asked, such as: “Do I not give God time every day in prayer?” (Commandment #1) and “Have I not respected all members of the opposite sex, or have I thought of other people as objects?” (Commandment #6). As I work through the examination questions, I can check the ones that apply to me. (The photo to the right shows the examination associated with the 8th Commandment. It includes questions like: “Have I gossiped?” and “Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?”)

3. Once I have finished the examination, then it’s time for confession. The sins I identified during the examination are listed so that I might confess them specifically.

4. Then I am guided through an “Act of Contrition,” a pray in which I acknowledge my sins and express my sorrow for them.

5. Next is the place where a priest would offer absolution. Thus the app is not a replacement for actually going to confession, if you’re Catholic. It is simply a guide to help you confess more specifically.

6. Finally, the app offers a brief word of encouragement from Scripture or one of the great saints of the church. For example, there is a quotation from St. Augustine that reads: “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

So, you might wonder, what do I think of this app?

Since I am not Roman Catholic, the language and understanding of confession is not quite the same as my own. I do not believe, for example, that one must receive absolution or forgiveness from a priest. But, my Reformed tradition affirms the importance of examining one’s conscience as part of confession of sin. In fact, we use the Ten Commandments as a guide for our examination and confession. So, in many ways, this app would be useful to someone who was not Catholic.

I must admit that when I first read about the confession app, I rolled my eyes. I can get very cynical about the trendy use of technology for spiritual purposes. Yet, when I actually paid for the app and worked through a round of confession guided by the app, I was chastened. It did encourage me to think about some of my sinful behaviors and attitudes that I might easily overlook. There was nothing cute or even especially trendy about the confession app, other than the fact that it runs on an iPad or iPhone. 

It appears that the confession app is meant to get Roman Catholic Christians to church, specifically, to confession to a priest. Though I do not believe that this form of confession should be required of Christians, I do think that confession of sin to another Christian can be a very good thing. In fact, it’s something commended to all Christians in Scripture (James 5:13-16). This is, it seems to me, one of the most often disobeyed commands in the whole Bible. So, if the confession app helps some Christians examine their lives and confess their sins, either to the Lord alone or to another in God’s presence, then I can see benefit of this app. The fact that it shows up on an iPad or iPhone doesn’t make it any more or less valuable than other printed guides to confession, except that it is convenient to have it in one’s digital carry-everywhere device.  

Moreover, I appreciate the attempt by those who envisioned and designed the confession app to use technology to help people grow in their relationship with God. I believe we need more efforts like this, even as I believe that we need to be renewed in our commitment to physical fellowship with other believers, including confession of sins. In some ways, the need for the confession app stands as an indictment of the lack of deep fellowship among Christians today. 

I’m sure that many Christians will enjoy making fun of this app. Okay, fine. I can relate. That’s where I began, too. But here are some questions for such jokesters to consider: Do you regularly confess your sins in any specific way? Do you ever take time for a searching moral inventory as you confess? Have you ever let the Ten Commandments guide you in your personal confession? Do you ever obey the imperative of James 5 and confess your sins to another person? If you answered “No” to any or all of these questions, perhaps you might think twice before laughing at the well-intentioned effort of some folks to encourage the kind of confession that Scripture commends and that our souls need.



  • Sean

    Rev. Thank you for this article. I am a Catholic who truly values the sacrament of pennance (confession). Before reading, I was curious how you would treat the subject being that your denomination does not subscibe to this form of confession. I guess I was expecting a snarky commentary on how wrong the catholic church is. Thank you for proving me wrong. If I may, I just wanted to correct the perception that the priest is the one absolving me of my sins, that is not correct. The priest makes it clear in his words of absolution that Jesus is the one supplying the forgiveness and mercy. The priest also offers words of encouragement, advice for avoiding sin and helps identify areas in my life that are lacking. The priest will also assign a pennance based upon what I have confessed. This may be as simple as mediating on a particular bible verse or making amends with someone I’ve wronged.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Sean: Thanks for your comment and clarification. That is an important distinction. Still, am I right in believing that a Catholic must confess to a priest, who alone is able to communicate (confirm? effect?) that which comes from Jesus. This cannot be done other than by a priest, yes? At least that’s what I’ve been reading from priests who are concerned that the new app might suggest that a priest is not necessary.

  • http://www.catholic.com Brennan

    Thanks for this article. I am someone who converted to Catholicism from Protestantism. What strikes me as somewhat ironic is that while some Protestants may balk at confessing to a priest because they simply are uncomfortable with confessing to another man (even if it can be done incognito), I think it would be far more difficult and uncomfortable to confess sins to a friend one knows (particularly to one not under the seal of confession).
    But thanks again for the review, I think I just might get the app.

  • Brennan

    Hi Mark,
    I just saw your question, and while I am sure Sean can answer it far better than I, I thought I would throw in my two cents. For venial (not very serious), one can confess directly to God. Mortal sins, (sin unto death) needs to be confessed to a priest. One exception to this would be if someone has perfect contrition. I also want to post a link to this article which goes into more detail on confession:
    http://www.catholic.com/library/Forgiveness_of_Sins.asp
    God bless.

  • Sean

    Brennan, thanks for the link. I could not have explained it better than that.
    Here’s how I see it. Jesus would not leave us without shepherds. He gave to the apostles his power in order to carry on the mission. The apostles eventually passed their authority (including the authority to retain or forgive sin) onto the next generation of christian leaders, who then passed it onto the next and so on. (And as Brennan’s link explains, we know that the early Christians practiced auricular confession.) This unbroken link of church leaders became what we Catholics recognize as the priesthood. Ask yourself, why would Jesus grant these beautiful gifts to the apostles for the benefit of his people only to have it die with them? What about the generations that followed? Do we have less need for these gifts than the first century Christians? Did Jesus intend it only for them? So that begs the question: If this authority was passed on from generation to generation up to the present time, who has it now? I have to believe that it rests with the priesthood of the Catholic Church. Just my belief.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Sean and Brennan: Thanks for the ongoing conversation.
    As you probably know, Protestant Christians would offer different answers to your questions. Many, including me, would say that the authority granted to the apostles was not lost, but was passed on to the church as a whole, not just to priests. Thus, James can say, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed” (James 5:16). There is not a command her to confess only to priests. Moreover, the confession is to be mutual. This points, I believe, to what is often called the priesthood of all believers. So there isn’t a denial of the priestly function with its apostolic roots. Rather, the difference is one of who can function as priests. Protestants, following the teaching of James and others, see that function as shared among all of God’s people, and not just given to a few.
    Unfortunately, in my view, many (most?) Protestants have lost any sense of the priestly function of all believers. So things like mutual confession are not often practiced in the church today.

  • Sean

    Point taken. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  • http://themusicalmonk.blogspot.com/ Michael

    The misinformation over this app has actually been a wonderful opportunity for witness, both to the non-believing curious, as well as my confused Protestant brethren (that I was once a card carrying member).
    Not only can I give a quick biblical explanation of the sacrament, but also my gratefulness over the gift of it. Not only is there a certain penitential spirit associated with taking the time to get to confession, as well as the formation of the Christ like virtue of humility in saying my sins out loud, but in the end we get to hear Jesus (through His priest) “I forgive you” . . . .other the receiving the Eucharist every day, there is no greater joy.

  • Sean

    Amen Michael.
    “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

  • http://www.lisastewartlaw.com High Point

    I was just glad to hear that the app was not as pathetic as the local radio commentators implied. We should all be encouraged to confess our sins on a regular basis.

  • DST 2004

    James 1:5 says that if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth liberally and abraideth not, and it shall be gine him. Jesus Christ is the only one who can forgive sins-not a priest, archbishop, etc. If a person needs to know where he has sinned or lacking in some area, the Holy Spirit will tell him and guide him. This is basically called the conscience. If you have the Holy Spirit, it will let you know when you have sinned. God will also send someone to point them out to you if need be like he did David when he put Uriah on the front line to have him killed so that he could have his wife. He sent Aaron to warn him. What did David do-repented to the Lord God Almighty and there was not a priest there. The app is good because I feel like it will help me in some of the sins that I do not think about, but I will fall on my knees and ask the one who died for me to forgive me and to purge me and help me so that I will not continue to do those things. I am not being critical of Catholics because if I am a Christian and loves the Lord, then I have to love you because He commanded us to do so no matter the religion, color, social status, etc. I have love for all people but I feel that sin confession should be to Jesus Christ.

  • Nick Hovick

    I am impressed with your confessional humility and charity.

  • Sis PJ

    Awesome word DST 2004; we have direct access to the Lord God, Jesus Christ himself to ask for forgiveness of our sins. It’s His blood that will cleanse us. Also, it was Nathan that the Lord sent to David to warn him, not Aaron (2 Samuel 12:1). God bless you all!

  • Tom

    DST: Jesus Christ is the only one who can forgive sins-not a priest, archbishop, etc.
    The Catholic Church doesn’t see a conflict between the two:

    Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, “The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and exercises this divine power: “Your sins are forgiven.” Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name. (<a href="
    John”>http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=20&verse=23“>John 20:23)

    You may ultimately disagree with the theology; I just wanted to stress that Catholics believe that Jesus chose to exercise his forgiveness through other men. This doesn’t mean that we’re confused as to the source of that forgiveness.

  • Tom

    Sorry for the html blunder: http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Joh&chapter=20&verse=23 pertains to John 20:23.

  • http://www.realchristian.net Craig

    I think it’s great Mark that you did this review. Protestants like myself could use our own version of this app and it would not be a bad thing. Too many Protestants have no idea of the consequences of unrepentant sin in the life of believer. This is a shame. God Bless you

  • Webminotaur

    Why are people on this post continuing the old debate of confessing sins to a member of the clergy? It has been going on since before the Reformation period, and still has not been settled – and probably won’t be until Christ’s return.
    As for James 5:16 saying we are to confess our “sins” to one another, that depends on the version read. The various King James Versions (I have 3) all read “faults.” That is different from “sins.” Another version of the Bible has “weaknesses” (Sorry, I can’t find that one right off hand – most of my Bibles are in storage). From my perspective, what that verse is telling us is to get support from one another in facing temptations. Each of us have our own weaknesses and can use help from someone who is stronger in that area.
    Looking at the original post by Mark, the topic should be the usefulness of the iPod application. I don’t have an iPod or other such device. However, I make extensive use of my desktop computer. An application such as this would be useful in identifying specific things which my mind has accepted as being OK, but my spirit knows are not OK with God – or at least not in my best interest with respect to God. At the least it could help show where I am weak so I could get help from other believers.
    An application such as this would integrate well with the published items (such as Guide Posts or books of confessions), my subscription to Beliefnet.com and other daily scripture sites, digital Bibles and commentaries, etc. I am interested in anything that would give me a closer walk with Jesus.
    So, thank you, Mark, for you post so more people will know about this application and how it can be used by all who claim to believe in Jesus Christ.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/markdroberts/ Mark D. Roberts

    Webminotaur: Thanks for this thoughtful comment.
    I never knew that about the KJV and James 5:16. Fascinating! The Greek word used in the verse is hamartia, which is the basic biblical Greek word for sin. Translating as “faults” is probably an effort in the KJV to avoid any Roman Catholic implications. The word “confess” comes from the standard Greek word that means “to acknowledge,” as in acknowledging one’s sins. In Matt 3:6, these words are both used to describe how people responded to John the Baptist. Here, the KJV has “And were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.” It seems to me that James does have in mind what we would describe as confessing our sins to each other. But this passage surely also commends what you describe, in terms of sharing our weaknesses as well as our sins.

  • Webminotaur

    Mark,
    Since I don’t know modern Greek, let alone that used nearly 2000 years ago, I appreciate your comment on which word is used in James 5:16 and how it is generally interpreted. That would explain why most of the other versions do use the word “sin.”
    Confessing our sins/faults/weaknesses/temptations/or whatever is a very sound principle even in the secular world. There is something about actually saying things out loud (even if no one else is around) that helps the troubled mind. That is a main concept behind psychoanalysis; getting the person to talk about his/her problems. Some people I know lock themselves in private rooms to pray aloud, others set a chair and conceive that Jesus is sitting there so they can talk aloud to him, and others use animals, crosses, figures, or even a blank wall. Still others need an actual human (even if that person doesn’t really listen). The object is to express your feelings; that is, to vent. The more specific we are, the more we benefit from it. Nearly everyone feels much better after such an experience. Many others need a “word of assurance” from another person. I know some Protestants who became Roman Catholics simply because of their form of confession. The generic “I’m a sinner” did not do it for them. So, regardless of what any church may stress, it all depends on the individual’s needs. And we are consistently instructed in the Epistles to respect our indivudual differences.
    Back to the idea of this iPod application, I’m reminded of what Paul said about the Law. Sin was always in the world, but it was not known to be sin until the Law. In this context I see many Christians doing things that are inconsistent with the Bible, but they do not seem to think it is wrong. If some point is brought out to them, then they can be convicted in the spirit. For example, we all know that theft is wrong. But how many consider “grazing” while shopping as theft? Or how about taking home a pen, pad of paper, a box of staples, etc., from work is theft? Or even doing personal business on the company’s computer is theft? We are told to obey the local laws, yet people do not think it is wrong to drive over the speed limit, or claim extra donations on their tax returns. The list of things so-called Christians do in violation of the Bible, without giving it a second thought, is extensive. Something that would get down the the nitty-gritty of life as we live it compared to what God’s value system says it should be, would be most helpful. Then maybe we would be “a peculiar people” like the Bible instructs us to be. We would not have to call ourselves “Christians,” but people would automatically assign that title to us.
    This is getting too long, and taking up too much of your blog. So, let me take down my soap-box and let someone else have the floor.
    Thank you.

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