Invention to help hearing-impaired make a good confession

From CBCP News I read a story about a priest who, to facilitate confessions of the people who are hearing/speech impaired, came up with an idea.

Two computers that are hard connected together, no wi-fi, etc., on which penitent and priest confessor could type back and forth.

At first, I though “Good idea, so long as they are physically present to each other.”  Moreover, absolution cannot be only in writing.  Written absolution, alone, would be invalid.

But there was nothing about that in the original story I read.

I followed links for more information and went HERE.  You read:

If approved by the Holy See following a study and evaluation by competent Church authority, the StDamien Confession Box, by permission of the bishop to be used in his diocese, becomes a special confessional inside the church which may be located alongside other traditional confessionals.  For security purposes, this may also be located in a separate room where the priest and the penitent can use the two laptops placed on top of  a table, with them sitting along side  or  facing each other. What makes it special is its ability to allow deaf people and those who have speech difficulties to participate better in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

So, you can see that this is intended to be used when both confessor and penitent are physically present to each other, not at long distance via some sort of network.

It is possible to write a confession and give it to the confessor.  However, to receive sacramental absolution, it must be received in person, not in writing, not from a distance vocally via telephone, etc.  It must be in person or it is invalid.  Exact distance isn’t specified, but you must be physically present, I suppose within earshot or the like.

The maximum range of validity of sacramental forms of most sacraments is not spelled out with precision, but physical presence is necessary.

People entering into matrimony are a separate case, at least as far as the ratum part is concerned.

Any way, such a thing could be a good idea.

I have been in confessionals which still had old equipment like a telephone hand set which were for the hard of hearing.  However, those confessionals were often not well sound-proofed, which had lots of problem potential.  Hearing confessions of the impaired can be tricky, especially if there are people around, even if a priest can sign with the best of them.

I think we should have traditional style confessionals, with the fixed-grate and barrier and really good sound proofing, and if such a gizmo can help the hearing impaired, all the better.

In the meantime…


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  1. Magpie says:

    12 inches of blacked out ballistic glass and reinforced steel doors, with concrete walls reinforced with ceramic armoured plates. That should do the trick. =p

  2. brushmore says:

    From a technology point of view, this just sounds like two terminals connected via a null modem cable. This has been around for several decades.

  3. mamajen says:

    I am hearing impaired, and confession is such a struggle. I have taken to pressing my ear against the screen to hear what the priest is saying, and even then it’s tough. I should really work up the courage to just do face-to-face. This computer idea would be very helpful. I have seen the phone system at some parishes, but yes privacy is a concern when speaking above a whisper.

  4. Deacon Augustine says:

    This sounds a good solution to help the hearing-impaired, but I hope they bear in mind the need for thorough cyber security and data protection protocols. It is bad enough that some law enforcement agencies want to overcome the seal of the confessional without giving them more means to do it.

  5. Fr. Hamilton says:

    Great idea! But if this device is approved any bets on how the Church will handle the dubium regarding penitents who AREN’T hearing impaired but who may prefer or request to use the device anyway, especially if such requests become ways to avoid having to vocalize their sins?

  6. Rose in NE says:

    My pastor (FSSP) has made it a point to reach out to the deaf community here. In addition to learning ASL, he uses an UbiDuo communicator to ‘hear’ confessions in a traditional confessional. The UbiDuo is basically the same kind of device mentioned above, where two people can type a conversation. This confessional is also equipped with a telephone handset and has a wider door to accommodate wheelchairs. A couple of our parishioners are ASL interpreters and they translate at the Sunday High Mass and on Holy Days, too.

  7. iPadre says:

    Although I love technology, I don’t trust it. I prefer the pad and paper. Never know if someone can break into a network or somehow store shat has been written. Paper can be destroyed immediately in a way it cannot be put back together.

  8. AMTFisher says:

    Would a translator (a human being) be allowed to be present and translate a confession?

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Translators (including ASL ones) are allowed to be present at confessions when needed. They are bound to secrecy with great severity, very much like priests; and if they’re Catholic, breaking secrecy subjects them to Very Big Penalties.

  10. Fr. Hamilton says:


    My understanding is that in cases of true necessity, and with the request and agreement of the penitent, a translator could be allowed. However it must be understood that the translator is bound by the same seal of the confessional as is the priest confessor.

  11. Bthompson says:

    AMTFisher: Yes, translators, interpreters, etc are legitimate (and they would be just as under the Seal as the priest), however I can see the awkwardness of such a situation and were I hard of hearing I would jump at the chance to have a technological solution (even something low tech like a pad and pen… and maybe a shredder)

  12. Stephen Matthew says:

    A small size dry erase board would seem to be much cheaper, more secure, and more easily accessible to the technically challenged. Computers, telephones, even paper can be either monitored electronically or have the data recovered later. Dry erase or chalk board can be wiped clean. There would also be a nice symbolic element, of think of the variations on “clean slate”.

  13. MikeM says:

    It wouldn’t be connected to a network that goes beyond the confessional. Beyond that, the security issue is less technical… they need to ensure that access to the machines (and, really, this should apply to access to all confessionals everywhere) is controlled. Someone with physical access to a computer has an infinite number of ways to capture information from it, so the physical access needs to be controlled.

  14. bmadamsberry says:

    It could also be used to translate for a priest who, perhaps, doesn’t speak the language as well as needed.

  15. jaykay says:

    I also have hearing problems, such that like Mamajen I sometimes end up with my ear pressed up against the grille if the priest is indistinct (and I hate having to say “Could you repeat that, please, Father?”). Knowing that it’s only going to get worse in future years I think this innovation is a great step.

  16. incredulous says:

    I don’t like the idea of putting the NSA inside the confessional. It’s none of Satan’s business…

  17. capchoirgirl says:

    Ah, an excellent idea! I like this very much. My parish was built in the 1850s so we have wonderful old confessionals, but, for me (I have a cochlear implant), there is no face to face option. So I have to go to priests I know I can understand. A white board wouldn’t work because there’s no way to pass it through the grille, but a computer on both sides? This would work quite well, methinks, as long as it gets erased. :)

  18. Darren says:

    Re: StephenMatthew: “Dry erase or chalk board can be wiped clean.”

    Only if erased immediately (which I would hope would be the case… ) But even after a few moments I have seen some semblance of the writing remain on some.

    Yes, the first thing that comes to mind is that the priest then has to format these computers after each confession (multiple times) to remove any traces of the confession… …and a tech savvy “penitent” can follow and dig and quickly find what was electronically confessed by the people prior. Better to pass a paper which the priest immediately shreds… and then immediately burns the shreds after he leaves the confessional. This laptop could also have no USB or other drives through which anyone can access anything.

    I often think of the government trying to bug confessionals. Buy your priest sweeping equipment to check for bugs!

  19. e.e. says:

    This discussion of written confessions brings to mind a passage in Fr. Walter Ciszek’s book “With God in Russia,” which I re-read fairly recently. In one of the Soviet prison camps where Fr. Ciszek was incarcerated, both men and women were held there, but in different areas separated by a fence. They devised a system for him to hear women’s confessions without drawing authorities’ attention by spending too much time at the fence: The women would discreetly pass or throw over the fence a small note with their confession. Each woman would choose a number for herself and write this number on the note, so that Fr. would know whose confession was whose. Fr. would read and then destroy the written confessions. The next day, they would make their way to the fence again (letting Fr. know their number), and Fr. would say the prayers of absolution.

    I have been incredibly struck by this passage since the first time I read it — what great lengths these women went to in order to avail themselves of Confession! If caught, they would have been greatly punished or even killed. If they could manage to find a way in a Soviet prison camp to confess, then surely I have no excuse to avoid confession.

  20. capchoirgirl says:

    Darren: Well, you can’t pass paper in my church’s confessionals. The grille has a piece of backing attached to it so the priest REALLY can’t see you. No way to fit paper through there.

  21. ASPM Sem says:

    To all worried about the security of such a computer connection:

    Two computers can be hard-wired to each other without being connected to the Internet, or any other network where someone could hack into them. A very simple computer system could be made that is even once computer with two monitors and two keyboards. If the demand for such a system is created, it would be very easy to make and secure.

  22. Fr AJ says:

    Sounds like a great idea for translating if priest and penitent do not speak the same language. Otherwise pen and paper are fine and much cheaper.

  23. incredulous says:

    It doesn’t require an internet connection to snoop. It just requires that a signal be transmitted (wifi router to wifi router). Here’s what we knew Google (NSA) was up to back in 2010. Further, it is most probably that any router encryption can easily be defeated by NSA. htt p://

    I would not brush of such concerns so lightly. Given that priest-penitent privilege is tenuous at best depending on the country. It is highly foreseeable that a warrant could be obtained to eavesdrop on such point to point RF devices. The confessional is no place for Satan to be spying on a penitent.

  24. Phil_NL says:


    I think the point that was being made is that the signal could be by old-fashioned wire (e.g. USB cable) rather than wifi. A PC without a network card (and it’s easily enough taken out of old ones, for new ones it’s a bit harder but certainly not a biggie for someone who knows what to take out) is still virtually impossible to crack from a distance.

  25. incredulous says:

    That’s true, but hardly anybody does hard wiring any more. It’s much easier and cheaper to use wifi routers. There will be exposure issues.

  26. MichaelKavanagh says:

    The idea, although novel, sounds as useful as using a 9mm Biretta, err, Beretta to shoot roaches. Sure it kills the roach, but in the wrong hands does a lot worse damage.

    A written confession handed to the Confessor and returned to the Penitent at absolution is more secure. There is one copy, which is entrusted entirely to the penitent. Period. Worked for centuries, requires no electricity, and the data can easily be destroyed and rendered unrecoverable by burning, tearing, digestion, etc.

    With computers, even offline or using a null modem link, events and keystrokes can still be logged, and a hacker whose interest it is to know what was written during this confession (like legal challengers to confessionals etc), only needs about 15 seconds with one of the machines to compromise it and have it log anything. How many people have access to the devices in question? The Confessor? Pastor? Sacristan? The handful of folks praying, err preying in this case in the sanctuary midday?

    Just because we can make apps for anything does not mean everything needs an app.

  27. The Masked Chicken says:

    Two other possibilities:

    1. A, “dumb,” terminal, such as a VT100, wired to a monitor. It stores no data.

    2. A deck of cards with the full alphabet and phrases. This is for face-to-face confessions.

    The Chicken

  28. MichaelKavanagh says:

    Fr AJ said:

    “Sounds like a great idea for translating if priest and penitent do not speak the same language. Otherwise pen and paper are fine and much cheaper.”

    Oh, if only we had a universal language we could fall back upon…
    Once upon a time I gave a confession to a priest from a foreign country, who spoke no English, or German for that matter.

    Christ heard my confession, and His minister gave me His absolution in Latin.


  29. MichaelKavanagh says:

    @The Chicken
    Imagine Scrabble Confessions…

    Ooooh! ADULTERY on a Triple Penance Score!

    [?!? Maybe not the best moment to inject humor.]

  30. Ben Kenobi says:

    Interesting idea, but I personally prefer face to face and I lipread well enough so I can follow along. Thanks for sharing this, Father Z! :)

  31. dcs says:

    That’s true, but hardly anybody does hard wiring any more. It’s much easier and cheaper to use wifi routers. There will be exposure issues.

    The original post said “no wi-fi” so I don’t think this is a concern. It’s true that hardly anyone does hard wiring between computers any more but it is hardly an obscure branch of knowledge (like, say, dumb terminals or punch cards).

  32. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Hmmm. There are A LOT, and I mean A LOT, of issues here. I actually have an article coming out in THE JURIST in this whole area. I’ll keep you posted, Pater. In the meantime, folks might find useful background in my “The ordination of men bereft of speech and the celebration of sacraments in sign language”, Studia Canonica 42 (2008) 331-345, and my “Canonical and cultural developments culminating in the ordination of Deaf men during the twentieth century”, Josephinum Journal of Theology 15 (2008) 427-443.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  33. MAJ Tony says:

    In addition to keeping it off the net altogether, we would need the system to have features that make it the equivalent to “TEMPEST” compliant, to protect against incidental or accidental electronic eavesdropping from “compromising emanations.” That would mean electromagnetic shielding and separation from other computer systems. The system would also require physically controlled access. In addition to that, some regular purging of the system of any retained information, preferably by physical destruction (since that’s the only truly safe and 100% method – doing a “wipe” or formatting the HD does nothing more than format the REGISTRY FILE on MS systems.) Use inexpensive, low-volume HDDs, and destroy them regularly. Even better if you can build a system that only requires the data be temporarily kept in a RAM chip, and only the OS runs off a HDD or SSD.

  34. MAJ Tony says:

    @incredulous DoD and any .gov org that uses SIPR (Secure Internet Protocol Router) network, as well as anyone handling sensitive data that has a gov’t contract, is probably using hardwire.

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