First, a few comments.
Before anything else let this be said…. I changed my mind about that entry head line. Of course you can confess online! You can confess anywhere, to anyone, anything you like! But you can’t have your sins forgiven sacramentally unless you make your confession to a priest.
This is another way of saying… "No. You can’t ‘go to confession’ online. Period. Can’t. No."
This story also reveals how living a cyber-life is becoming increasingly common and even dangerous.
Let’s look at it with my emphases and comments.
Forgive us father, we’d rather go online
By Ashley Fantz
(CNN) — If you can pay for your bills online, why not pay for your sins?
"I’m not in a drive-thru business," Atlanta priest Ricardo Bailey said, here with parishioner Kim Schulman.
Already a repository for too much information from bloggers divulging their every intimate thought, the Web recently extended its reach into territory the church once dominated. [Notice the language of "power" attached to this: "dominated". The Church has always seen this mission, this use of the Lord's own power to forgive sins, as service.]
Tens of thousands of the guilty among us are visiting confessional booths [nooo...] at ivescrewedup.com, mysecret.tv and dailyconfessions.com and unburdening themselves anonymously. [Sadly, the impression of anonymity in making a confession has been damaged enormously by "face to face" style confessionals. I won't hear confessions face to face anymore (not that I did often before, mind you), unless it is an emergency of some sort.]
As priests report a steady decline in sinners showing up to confess in person, [They can't show up in any other way than "in person", Ashley.] according to a Georgetown University study, and parishes across America staff makeshift confessionals in malls with rotating priests, [And excellent idea.] the guilty among us are repenting online. [Which probably means you are not repenting at all.]
On camfess.com, a woman admitted, "I don’t think my boyfriend is cute." If God is checking his e-mail, He might see the "ask for forgiveness" form you completed on forgivenet.com. [Okay... there's some real depth for you.]
Absolution is also available on YouTube, where videos of members of XXX Church, a team of pastors based in Michigan, discuss their unholy addiction to porn. [Okay... get the problem here? "Unburden yourself in public", or "Discuss problems frankly" is NOT the same thing as "confession".]
Admissions on Christian church-operated sites such as ivescrewedup.com and mysecret.tv range from shoe shopping addictions ("I can’t stop. They are all so pretty") to extramarital affairs ("I’m not sure whether I should tell my wife") to criminal acts ("I have stolen about $15,000 when working for a family member"). [Remember, that only Churches with valid Holy Orders can offer the sacrament of penance. The rest... say what you want, say what they do might be helpful or nice... they are just shooting blanks.]
The majority of confessions, [Not confessions.] signed with initials and young ages, are descriptions of shame and guilt associated with sex. [WOW! In the next CNN story, "Dog bites man!"]
Confession 2.0 is a place where anonymity is a substitute for privacy and the intimacy traditionally experienced by talking to a priest, therapist or friend is replaced by a virtual community of strangers. Among the Web site managers CNN spoke with, none has professional counselors monitoring confessions. [Notice another thing.... the benefit of going to confession is "intimacy".]
"This is a new genre of confession," [No... it's not, not in any real Catholic sense of the word.] said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, who has researched cyber relationships and interviewed people who post confessions online.
"They have said to me, ‘This is where hope is for me.’ They think they can find on these sites some kind of goodness that eludes them in real life." [I have no doubt that they think this. More and more people are living life through the internet, false chimeric cyber-lives, as their personal and societal bonds unravel.]
But people who seek something more than their words on a Web site are often disappointed, said Turkle, who’s also a psychologist. Most sites do not invite or allow responses to messages, although grouphug.com allows posters to vote "hug" or "shrug" in response to confessions. [BLEECH!]
"Some responses are empathetic and kind; others aren’t so nice," Turkle said. [No kidding? You ought to see some of the mail I get!] "The expectation of what you can get out of these sites far exceeds what some ultimately get, and that, in its own way, can be harmful."
"What these sites say to me is what are we are increasingly missing in our lives — a sense of community and real, tangible connection with other people," Turkle said. [As I said...]
"Community" should have a broader definition, said Pastor Bobby Gruenewald of Oklahoma-based LifeChurch.tv, an evangelical consortium of 13 churches that launched mysecret.tv in 2006.
"This might be the first time some of these people are opening up about not just secrets in their life, but things they have felt embarrassed about for many years," he said.
About 30,000 people have posted "secrets" on mysecret that are linked to categories such as "lust," "cheat," "steal" and even "beastiality." When the site was featured on AOL’s homepage, more than 1.3 million people clicked on it in a single day, he said. [Put bestiality on a list and you get lots of clicks.... what a surprise.]
LifeChurch members monitor messages, deleting those that are, in their view, too graphic or fabricated. [Not just pretend confession, it is censored, too.] Like ivescrewedup.com, which is also run by a large church, IP addresses are not tracked. If someone posts a confession of a criminal nature — someone who says they enjoy child porn or they’ve committed murder — there’s not much the site managers can do about it.
A recent message on ivescrewedup.com reads: "I have killed four people. One of them was a 17 year old boy."
"We suspect that is a soldier," said Pastor Troy Gramling of South Florida’s Flamingo Road Church, which launched ivescrewedup.com last year. "We don’t want to track IP addresses, because that would compromise the authenticity of a site that says it’s anonymous." [hmmm... d'ya 'spose there might be some legal problems with this? Call me suspicious, but this could lead to real problems for real confessors. If the government were to go after such sites and require them to turn over information given in what some are going to try to admit as "confession", that will undermine the priviledged positions of priest confessors who are not required (yet) by law to divulge information received in the internal forum.]
The churches’ phone numbers are on their sites, both pastors note.
"We’re hoping that if they want to reach out and give their name, or talk to someone, they will," said Gruenewald. [Even though we still can't validly absolve their sins as Christ desired.]
The Georgetown University study, which came out in 2005, found a significant decline in Catholics who go to confession. [Wow! Cutting edge reporting!] Although the Roman Catholic Church officially opposes online confessions, [Look that that phrase.... "officially" opposes. The idea is that "official" things don't count. Unless they are false reports of "official" lists of new sins, of course.] the Archdiocese of Washington used radio advertisements last year to encourage sinners to return to the sacrament. And in Chicago, Illinois, five parishes hosted "24 Hours of Grace" with rotating priests. Read more about the sacrament known as confession » [Okay... did you what a foolish piece of thought this was. 1) Even though the Church officially says you can't go to confession online 2) the Church in Washington and Chicago encourages people to go to confession, real confession in person and provides opportunities. Get the connection? Get it? Oh brother!]
But the Web does not offer a road to "true absolution," said Father Ricardo Bailey of Holy Spirit of Atlanta, Georgia. [Finally.]
"I’m not in a drive-thru business," he said. "Confessing means you’re taking accountability for the things we’ve done wrong, that you understand the impact you’ve had on other people." [It also means saying your sorry and you won't do it again.]
"As a priest, we ask people questions, we tell them to approach the person or persons they’ve wronged," [We don't if that's the wrong advice, as it sometimes is.] Bailey said. "This [online confessing] is another way for people to avoid taking responsibility." [Exactly. And let's not be hard on Fr. Bailey. After all, he is being interviewed by CNN.]
Holy Spirit parishioner Kim Schulman, 38, called online confession "horrible." [Yep. I also like "abominable" and the ever useful "stupid".]
"It’s easy to send an e-mail without emotion or remorse. … Tone is hard to see in an e-mail," she said. "How do you know that people aren’t lying, doing it for the shock value, someone trying to outdo the confession before them?"
But Gramling said online confession is not meant to replace traditional confession. [Oh really?]
"Just because confessions don’t go directly to God through a priest or a church doesn’t mean they aren’t sincere," he said. "And there’s something healing about just going on the site and reading it, seeing all these other confessions. Some people might realize, ‘Maybe I’m not alone.’" [And.... then they go to confession?]