No. You can’t ‘go to confession’ online. Period. Can’t. No.

I found this on CNN, having been warned about it by the American Papist.

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, and 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, 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  [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 and 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 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, an evangelical consortium of 13 churches that launched 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, 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 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 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?]


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Clavem Abyssi says:

    In my opinion, the reason Catholics have largely stopped going to Confession is that we rarely hear about it in homilies and when we do, we hear only the therapeutic and psychological benefits of it. Many homilists seem allergic to mentioning anything supernatural. Now, these natural benefits are great, but it is no wonder that, in the absence of the full picture, people start thinking: “Can’t my therapist do a better job than my priest?” or “Wouldn’t an Internet confession be much more painless and easy?”

    Can you imagine what would happen if baptism were promoted as just being refreshing and hygienic? Would it be any wonder if baptisms declined? Wouldn’t people start thinking “Can’t I just baptize my kid in our bathtub?”

  2. I don’t think setting up confessionals in a mall-type setting is a good idea. Infinitely better to be in Church, preparing yourself before the Tabernacle. How can one truly examine one’s conscience in a mall setting? Talk about distractions.

  3. Tiny says:

    Alert, alert, liberal media without a clue, MAN YOUR BATTLESTATIONS

    I don’t mind people using these websites to get things off their chests e.g. “I don’t like my boss”,

    but to give it the pretence of Sacramental Confession, as the writer of the article does, is blasphemous.

    Thank goodness for WDTPRS and the other blogs I visit. When a friend or school mate asks me about “internet confession”
    or the “new” 7 deadly sins, I can respond with real firepower, rather than a squirt gun.

  4. mbd says:

    The decline in the numbers going to confession seems to have run parallel to the trend some years back in replacing confessionals with reconciliation rooms.

  5. Chris T. says:

    Wait, I absolutely agree that posting a note online does not constitute making confession and receiving absolution, but you say that it is “not repenting”. How can that be? If someone is contrite and repents of their sins, they are repentant regardless of whether they go to a priest or not. They don’t receive sacramental absolution, but people can (and should!) repent of their sins anywhere and everywhere.

  6. Patronus says:

    I honestly didn’t think the article was terrible, or that it overly misrepresented the specific Catholic exposition of the reality of confession. But it did make me sad, because people are so misguided.

  7. Patronus says:

    In fact, I give them credit for so overtly quoting a knowledgeable priest and making it clear that the Catholic Church does not condone this.

  8. Will says:

    Greg: We have a Catholic Center at my nearby mall. Their are priests hearing confessions 12 hours a day, and there is a chapel where they offer mass twice a day. It is perhaps not an ideal solution, but it seems to me that there are plenty of Catholics who are availing themselves of it, which is more than I can say of the confessional at my parish.

  9. Will says:

    That should read “There are priests….” How embarrassing. I also thought I’d mention that the daily masses offered there are usually standing room only. I know that I’ve been to daily mass far more often since they’ve opened than I ever did at my parish. The only real downside is that there is one priest at the center who wouldn’t know a rubric if it bit him.

  10. The priest CNN interviewed is very popular with the media here in Atlanta. He’s known as Father Crunk.

    He used to (maybe he still does) appear on a morning drive time radio show. He’s very popular with the young adults. I think he may have been our assistant vocations director for a short time.

    Some of his on air appearances:…ure.asp? id=7671

    Great public speaker, but I don’t know much else about him.

    Who knows what was left out of the interview, it is CNN.

  11. At the last parish I was at when we stopped hearing confessions in the “Reconciliation Room” and went back to the confessional the number of people coming to confession rose dramatically. Not only our own parishioners, but people came from other parishes as well because they wanted to maintain anonymity. Another thing that made a big difference was being in the confessional when it was convenient for people to come, not when it was convenient for priests to hear. People’s lives are different than they were 30 or 40 years ago and Saturday afternoon or evening isn’t always the ideal time anymore. Priests need to be in the confessional when it’s convenient for people to come. And relying on people to make an appointment just doesn’t work, especially if someone wishes to remain anonymous. There are many factors which contribute to the decline in confessions and some of them are the fault of priests.

    Saint Alphonsus encouraged each secular priest to spend at least an hour in the confessional each day. The time is never wasted. If no one comes one can say the breviary or the rosary, or do one’s spiritual reading. But it is never wasted time. I would like to encourage every priest who reads this to give it some thought. Pick an hour when it might be convenient for people, get the word out, and be faithful to being there and people will come. If you aren’t sure of a good time, put a short questionnaire in the weekly bulletin or in the pews and ask people. Where it’s been done, it works.

  12. Thomas says:

    Honestly, parishes that have daily confession around noon always seem to get better turn out than the Saturday confessions, and in a way this makes sense since so many churches are now near where people work rather than where they live.

    I can understand where all of this online stuff is coming from. It goes back to a real human need, but people always forget that most everything has already been invented; they have forgotten about the real thing. Kind of reminds me of so many Protestants trying to become ritualistic: at my grandfather’s funeral I was reading a Lutheran pamplet on the importance of private “confession,” and my mom, who converted in 1972 was shocked to see such a thing. Seems to me that now is a good time for the Church to advertise these great things that people really do want.

  13. Cel says:

    Regarding confessions set up in malls or advertised publicly, what do you do if a non-Catholic comes to confess something? Just curious, I am still very new to all of this, I had my first confession last week and will be coming into the Church this Easter.

  14. Vicky says:

    I think the single most interesting thing I picked up out of this article is that the non-Catholics feel the need to go to confession. They don’t want to recognize confession as a sacrament, but somehow they feel the need to confess. Now think of how much better they would actually feel if they REALLY went to confession and received ABSOLUTION!

  15. Roger says:

    Cel, welcome to the family!! A non-Catholic can receive a blessing from a
    Catholic priest, but that is not the same thing as sacramental absolution.
    I know of a few non-Catholics who seek the advice/counsel of a priest and
    then receive a blessing.
    If a non-Catholic pretends to be Catholic confessing to a priest…
    I don’t know if the “absolution” would be valid? I don’t think so.

  16. Alice says:

    The whole concept of online confession would be outrageously funny if one could put aside the sad eternal consequence. It does speak to Man’s desire to “tell” when there’s guilt on the conscience. God made us of body and soul. We need the form and the matter of the Sacrament of Penance (and all the others) because we’re fleshy stuff. Without the sacrament, we still have that desire to spill the beans – anywhere and everywhere. What mess.

    And isn’t it neat that I posted a link to the CNN story in the idiot news stories thread exactly 7 minutes before Fr. Z? I just had to tell.

  17. Felix says:

    Excellent comments from Fr Bailey.

    Two other points. If you say you’ll be available, be available for the whole time specified. I’ve experienced several PPs who said they were available for half an hour a week but who left after the first 20 minutes or so, be, because there wasn’t anyone else in the queue. Didn’t help the people who came in after Father had left.

    And here’s a true story. Someone visited a parish and was struck by the numbers going to confession. He asked the priest about it and was told, “Hardly anyone went when I arrived but I preached about it and just , and kept on preaching about it.”

  18. If an non-Catholic comes to confession I explain that he/she cannot be absolved but that I would be happy to listen to what is troubling him/her and assure them that the strictest confidence will be kept. I give the same advice or counsel I would to a Catholic and suggest a penance, explaining what it is and why I have suggested that particular work or prayer. I remind them of God’s love and mercy and conclude with a blessing.

    While I personally have not had anyone enter the Church because of an experience like this, I do know of priests who have. It was especially popular among non-Catholics in the Virgin Islands.

    Also, for pastors with schools, be sure that the children come regularly for confession by class. If two classes come every week that means they all go to confession just about monthly. It gets them in the habit of regular confession which just may continue as they move on to high school. And if you’ve got the children coming they often get the parents to go regularly as well.

  19. Felix says:

    Here are two other suggestions for our priests.

    Don’t sit outside the box when there are no customers. This takes away from the anonymity and can deter the timid.

    Have different times during the week, because people have differing routines.

  20. Online Confession, isn’t that a contradcion in terms?

    Daily Confesions are good. If there’s enough priests confession from 8:30-8:30 would work :)

  21. Richard says:

    I can’t resist this paragraph:

    Admissions on Christian church-operated sites such as and 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”)

    Is it just me, or did he perhaps mix the quotes up?

  22. elizabeth mckernan says:

    I can’t help visualising the ‘rotating priests’ in the mall. Do they resemble the whirling derviches perhaps?

  23. Katherine says:

    I recall asking our FSSP priest if I could confess over the phone since I would be away for several months and I knew the priests where I was going offered face-to-face weird confessions. He said, Absolutely not!”

  24. Karen says:

    People don’t go to confession because they no longer believe in Hell. Duh.

    They “confess” online because they still have consciences, and they’re worried that they mightbe wrong about Hell. But it’s not like they’ve heard it mentioned from the pulpit in the last, oh, three decades.

    I like face-to-face confession because it’s much easier to argue when the priest when he starts trying to explain to you that you haven’t sinned. Something about seeing your face makes them allow you to sin.

    Loved the post. Especially the “ever useful stupid,” which I must confess I will be stealing.

  25. Jacques says:

    In my opinion, the success of these websites is mainly due to anonymity. Here people are hidden and are allowed to completely free themselves from their dark and shameful deeds.
    The problem with confession by modernist priests is that they are reluctant to use confessionals correctly. I don’t know why they want to look at the penitents eyes into eyes. I hate this: Sorry to say that it is the best way to block a true and sincere confession from people who newly discovered the graces of this sacrament.
    The pre VatII way of confess in our old confession boxes is that I personnally prefer since I am always puzzled to see the priest face to face even if I struggle unsuccessfully to imagine that’s Christ who is confessing me.

  26. Jacques, you make a great point. The penitent is not confessing to the priest but to Christ. The priest is Christ’s representative. That is one of the reasons I hear in a confessional. I don’t need to see the penitent. I don’t want to see the penitent. There isn’t any point to it. It’s not a counseling session.

    Karen, I’m sorry that a priest actually tried to explain that you haven’t sinned. How would he know your conscience? No priest has the right to make that determination unless someone is scrupulous in which case he may have to or there is doubt on the part of the penitent.

  27. Father Scott,

    I do think that one of the gravest responsibilities of a priest in confession is to judge the nature of the things confessed by the penitent and give advice and penance accordingly. The priest does act “judicially” in the penitential forum. Sometimes this means telling the penitent that what they have confessed is objectively not a sin.

    So I think you might want to rethink your response to Karen and refine it. Today lots of people confession emotional states as if they were sins: e.g., “I was angry at X.” The confessional gives you a catechetical opportunity say that simple anger is not a sin, rather it is an emotional state (a passion as St. Thomas would say). Acting unjustly because of anger is a sin. I could count up many, many. examples of people confessing things that were not sins, although our culture might disapprove of them (e.g. “being judgmental against politicians who promote abortion”).

    Priests have a responsibility to form conscience in the confessional and today they need to do this more than ever.

  28. Fr. Thompson: Today lots of people confession emotional states as if they were sins

    This is part of what is operative in Tip #14!

  29. Fr. Thompson, of course you are correct. However, I took Karen’s post as meaning the priest dismissed her; that he was among the many priests today who tell people they really can’t commit a sin, and definitely can’t commit a mortal sin. It’s not a case of judging whether or not an action was sinful but an attitude that no one sins. I know of several priests who believe and preach this. They tell people not to go to confession because they don’t need it.

  30. When CNN had a correspondent interview me for this piece, I can remember speaking to the correspondent for almost 30 minutes. Needless to say, I was shocked that people were actually “going to confession” on-line. As always, they (the media) leave out key points that were made in the interview such as responsibility for sin, the liberating power of the Father’s mercy & the heart-felt intention to avoid the sin in the future. I seem to remember saying that the Sacrament of Penance is a celebration of God’s mercy and of our resolve do be faithful to the Lord and to what he commands. I guess too much Jesus is too much for the secular media.

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