US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Vatican first approves, then bans iPhone confessions?

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So much fuss has been made over "Confession: A Roman Catholic app" that you would think that this is the only Roman Catholic iPhone app ever created. Christopher Williston, however, listed just a few of his favorite, including the older iConfess, last year in “iPray: Smartphone apps for the faithful.”

So what’s the big deal with this latest addition to the long list of Catholic apps? The Vatican.

We’ve had headlines about the Vatican introducing and approving the app, as well as the app absolving your sins (PC World). The PC World article does acknowledges that confessing to your phone does not give you absolution, but headlines from many news organizations have been less than subtle. In reality, South Bend, Indiana-based Little iApps developed the Confession app with two priests and received an imprimatur from Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

But today news of papal approval is mixed with news of papal disapproval. “The Vatican puts its foot down,” reads the AFP article, about spokesman Federico Lombardi statement that you can’t confess over a phone, as if anybody ever thought that was the case.

It’s easy to roll your eyes about the obsession with odd stories about the “Vatican,” and the imprimatur seems at least to be good marketing for Little iApps, but my question is how important “papal” approval is for such initiatives. 

Will more Catholics use such tools with a go-ahead from Rome or even just their local bishop? What about all cultural Catholics who the app is directed at—the iPhone users who haven’t been to confession (and maybe not Mass) for years but who read about this app in PC World? If they don’t hear Lombardi’s warning, will they use it as a replacement for the real thing?

My guess that usability is the most important factor and according to Mike Hayes at Googling God, this app isn't all that good.