QUAERITUR: Father had an iPad in the confessional!

From a reader:

My daughter came home from confession last night and said Fr. M was using his Ipad during her confession. She was behind the wall/grate but you can easily see through it. She also heard him whispering while he was surfing. She was very confused and surprised and said although he seemed totally distracted while she made her confession he did seem to have heard her because he offered her suggestions. When he came into church he did state to the line that he had RCIA soon and she supposed he might have been preparing for that. Regardless, this is very disturbing to me. How should I address it?

I refer you back to posts I have written about the use of smart phones and other gadgets in Church. As life changes and is changed by these devices, people will get used to seeing them being used in all sorts of places.

Father probably wasn’t “surfing”. More and more, priests are using their phones and iPads and the like for the recitation of their Office, in the newer form called the Liturgy of the Hours and, in the older form, the Roman Breviary. Furthermore, because the recitation of the Office is vocal prayer, many priests will say it very quietly to themselves, almost like a whisper.

Most priests use time in the confessional to say their Office.

That said, Father should stop with the Office while the penitent is there. When Father uses a book (few of which emit light) you wouldn’t notice that he had his book open. Now that these reading things emit light they are more visible. Just because they are visible, doesn’t mean that he isn’t paying attention to you. Still… yes… I know. It doesn’t fill you with confidence.

Though… you might feel differently were he reciting his Rosary or prayers for the penitent. Yes, we do that sometimes.

So, I would a) not worry about this very much and/or b) if you see this yourself, then you might say something to him. Right now, you have on hearsay what Father was doing.

Finally, if Father was preparing for RCIA you might keep in mind that he, like you, has only 36 hours in every days and he, like you, has probably only mastered bi-location rather than tri-location.

So, Fathers, be careful with those things in the confessional. Don’t give people a reason to be worried about anything.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Is it possible he might have been starting to say the words of absolution? My confessor uses the old formula and starts during my Act of Contrition, which results in him getting to the “and I absolve you…” bit just as I have finished… Just a thought…

  2. unavoceman says:

    Funny this comes up…I was using my iPhone Missal app for the first time last night at Latin Mass in Holy Innocents in NYC. It’s called iMass and it is FANTASTIC:

    I didn’t want to attract attention by seeming to be surfing my phone at Mass – so I tucked it into a song book from the back of the pew in front of me. I just didn’t have enough room in my briefcase to pack my 1962 Missal into Manhattan. Worked great. Still feels funny though, I have to admit.

  3. Beau says:

    FWIW, electronic devices in the confessional are a Bad Idea ™. Cell phones in particular can have their microphones (and sometimes cameras) activated remotely. Tablet devices that are wi-fi only might have to be accessed ahead of time and have additional software placed on them, but they could still be used as listening devices.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_listening_device#Remotely_activated_mobile_phone_microphones

    Also, google for “smart phone listening device”.

  4. wolfeken says:

    I’m sorry, but anyone who uses any sort of a phone/handheld device/computer machine in a church looks like he is checking email and surfing the web.

    This is NEVER going to change. [I’ll there were similar comments made around the time of the shift from the scroll to the codex.]

    So, the electronically-addicted can do either one of two things: 1) be comfortable causing distraction, confusion and even scandal inside a church; or 2) get whatever you are reading from in print form. The second option is really not that hard, or even costly, anymore.

    Your hardcopy book, or printout, is never going to beep, buzz, blink, flash or break into song inside a church. And you’ll look a lot more serious. [Yes, the “decorum” argument is very strong.]

  5. ronrule says:

    I have no problem with tech in church. But I gotta agree with Beau that listening devices in the confessional are bad. I would probably leave the confessional if I saw a glowing screen in there. “Whoops, I left Facetime connected.”

  6. DavidR says:

    Being an unreconstructed ossified manualist, I tend to agree with wolfeken; our organist stopped using his because of just that reason, although he said he was following the Mass.

  7. mamajen says:

    People bring up good points about listening devices in the confessional. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been accidentally called from somebody’s pocket or purse. Never thought about it happening in the confessional, but it could, and that would be really really bad.

  8. “I’m sorry, but anyone who uses any sort of a phone/handheld device/computer machine in a church looks like he is checking email and surfing the web.”

    Unless he is using the device while singing with the choir! A lot of folks in our choir use Liber Pro on an iPod or iPad. Lots easier than carrying around the 15lb book.

  9. unavoceman says:

    Guess I’ll have to join the choir :)

  10. Supertradmum says:

    I know many priests who use their tablets for the reading of the breviary. I have no trouble with this.

    I suppose some people also have their examination of conscience on their phones as there are apps.

    I have no problem with that, either.

  11. Grabski says:

    This Pope will be remembered for his reminding us of the importance of personal confession and reconciliation with the Church and its members.

  12. majuscule says:

    Thank you for the link to the app, unavoceman! Very nice!

    I got the HD version for my iPad. I’m not sure if I’m going to be using it as a missal at Mass (when I get to a TLM). I have a leather cover for the iPad so it does look like a book…except for the lighted screen.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If a confesser’s or priest’s phone butt-dials you from the confessional, and you hear something you shouldn’t have heard, you are still bound by the rules against revealing anything you hear from a confessional or trying to eavesdrop. (Doesn’t matter if you’re physically there or not.)

    Re: missals, I keep telling people I’ve read stuff from the 1800’s, by Catholics, complaining about Catholics reading their missals during Mass instead of praying. And hand missals and Mass prayer books weren’t really all that new; they’d been around for centuries, just not for normal people with normal incomes.

  14. louder says:

    I’ve stopped bring an iPhone to the confessional when hearing confessions, I admit, in my weakness one time, I was looking at ESPN when a penitent came in, and I found myself wanting the person to leave so I could get back to it. I had to do a “reality check” on myself, and realize that I would be using the iPhone to check on useless junk, so I leave it in the office now, take the Diary of Sr. Faustina, and read that in-between confessions. I just don’t want others, or myself, to get the feeling that confession is not my focus.

  15. Romuleus says:

    Let me say this as charitably as I can. This for those who are “scandalized” by discrete electronic devices that some folks bring with them to Mass.
    I went to the TLM this morning carrying my 3 lb. (so called “travel size”) 1962 Missale Romanum (FSSP) and my Baronius Press Roman Breviary. Why? Because I want to pray the Mass with the priest in the language of the Church and I want to pray the Office before and after Mass and I don’t want to make anyone mad if I pull out an electronic device.
    I have a 14 oz. Nexus 7 in a nice black leather cover that has the Benzinger 1962 Missale Romanum, the Roman Breviary (Benzinger Roman Breviary and Douay Rheims translations), the FSSP Breviarium Romanum, and the 2005 Martyrologium Romanum, all color PDFs, all beautifully backlit for easy reading (and praying) in the old cold dark inner city churches that we know and love. The covered device slips easily in a jacket pocket. When I have brought my Nexus to the TLM, I have always sat in the back next to a pillar away from everyone so as not to cause … “distraction, confusion and even scandal” … really?? It doesn’t beep or make noises or cook popcorn. I don’t drive 40 miles round trip to a bad neighborhood to surf the Internet. I only use the device for prayer. Unless you are hanging over my shoulder, you will never know it’s an electronic device.
    If someone would have suggestions as to where I can find a 4″ X 6.5″ 1962 Missale Romanum (1962, not 1945; all-Latin; not the typical Latin-English hand missals that, although worthy efforts, are usually full of typos) that I can slip into my pocket, I’ll be glad to purchase it and not distract you with my scandalous Nexus.
    There were several older people who used to come to the TLM that brought book lights with them to be able to read their hand missals. I haven’t seen them for awhile. One of the reasons my wife and children do not like going to the TLM with me is because there are always those there (Rad Trads?) who feel their opinions are equal to prophecy and take it upon themselves to correct us when they feel we have breached some sort of unpublished rubric. Hopefully, they didn’t run off the people with the book lights.

  16. Spade says:

    I use Laudate in the confessional. The confessional checklist ensures I don’t forget anything, as I tend to get nervous and forget things without a cheat sheet. Or used to. Now that I go more, I usually have less to confess.

    On the anti-iPhone things, well, Laudate with it’s interactive Rosary, chaplets, huge list of easily available prayers, and all that is one of the major drivers in my coming back to the Church. Lorica of St. Patrick? Never heard of it until I got that and now I try to say it every day. St. Thomas A’s prayer after communion was another one.

  17. unavoceman says:

    I certainly cop to doing it myself – but I have to admit, a Church full of people following along on iPads and iPhones would be unsettling. 6 pm at Holy Innocents is a small crowd and I did sit in the rear of the Church, I am sure purposely because I knew I was using the phone to follow along.

    I did see someone up closer a week before using a phone and I realized pretty quickly that he had some sort of Missal app. I guess I have to work it through. I do prefer the actual Missal – and actual books for any kind of reading. There’s a Kindle Fire in the next room and I have tried it exactly once in the last three months. Don’t like the feel of it.

    As far as distractions in the confessional – they don’t have to be high tech. Not too long ago I realized I could see and hear two large needles going through the screen. While I was knitting my brow, Father was knitting a sweater.

  18. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    We nee to focus not on technology, but on the situation. Mass is PUBLIC, Confession is PRIVATE, nay SECRET. The use of technology that COULD record in Confession raises completely different issues than it raises in Mass.

  19. acardnal says:

    I don’t think anyone should have an electronic device with them in the confessional – particularly a smart phone or a tablet. These devices have recording applications which can be activated inadvertently or intentionally (as Beau mentioned above). Moreover, I think confessionals should be locked when they are not in use or otherwise occupied. Those with evil or mischievous intent can plant audio recording devices in confessionals . . . I am thinking especially of teenagers who would enjoy getting their hands on someone’s confession and posting it on Facebook or other social media.

  20. albinus1 says:

    My sister told that once when she went to Confession she could see through the grille that the priest — a conservative, orthodox priest in other respects — was working on a crossword puzzle while hearing Confession.

    I think that might be the last time my sister has been to Confession.

    It was probably at least 30 years ago.

  21. Quanah says:

    @ albinus1,

    Just an observation, not a criticism or implication of anything on your part: I can’t imagine the weight a priest must carry from hearing people’s sins so often. While it is certainly not right or good, I can understand why a priest in moments of weakness may turn to some kind of distraction. Not a justification by any means, but a priest making recourse to such action saddens me to the point of understanding. I am sorry for your sister’s experience and will keep her in my prayers tonight.

  22. Uxixu says:

    I’ve used the rosary app in Church, before when I forgot my real one once. I didn’t even get any looks, that I noticed

    I also regularly use iPieta, which is my favorite app on both iOS and Android (I wish the Android implementation was a bit better), which has helped me learn a bunch of the Latin prayers and particularly help with pronunciation. I’m currently on the Credo and Confiteor. I would never check my email or messages though I’ve avoid using any device during Mass. Course at the Novus Ordo, I usually don’t even use the Daily Missal except for music here and though I do now and then for the Extraordinary Form.

  23. Uxixu says:

    Oh yeah forgot to add that iPeta has a great section on the examination of conscience which I was using once before Confession in Church after I gave due respect kneeling in prayer to Our Lord.

  24. Phil_NL says:

    It’s not about what Father is reading on his tablet, that’s a matter of decorum (or distraction) at best, and we’ll move with the times on that eventually, for better or worse.

    What it is about, is that these deceives tend to have microphones, and no way for the penitent to check if they’re on or off. And no real way for the priest to check it either, frankly.

    If it has a microphone, it shouldnt be with the priest in the confessional. Doesn’t matter what else the deceive is or isn’t capable of.

  25. Dave N. says:

    I agree with Dr. Peters. Because these are or can be recording devices, I think their presence is inappropriate in the confessional.

  26. JuliB says:

    I use Laudate once in a while, but stick with Universalis (~$10) since it has the official Hours prayers. I will pray some of the Office before Mass. Hadn’t thought to use anything for my examination of conscience. I’ll use an online guide and write out my list on a small piece of paper.

    I will check into iPieta as mentioned above for the Latin. Is there any app for Android for the Latin Mass? I found myself at one accidentally while in Houston a couple of weeks ago, and was totally lost at the low daily Mass. (The parish site said that the Mass I was attending would be in English, so it was a bit disconcerting without making preparations. However, my 1962 missal was sitting in my glove box with my mantilla in the Chicago suburbs.)

  27. jhayes says:

    Another solution to using father’s time between confessions:

    “The chapel is staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, a small Roman Catholic congregation of priests and brothers founded in 1826 by the Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri and dedicated to a rebirth of spirituality. While a mall might seem like the last place to seek the sacred, St. Francis offers 32 Masses a week, “more than you’d find in most every church anywhere,” said Wykes, one of five priests who serve there throughout the week. He suggested being interviewed in the cramped confessional box, so as not to disturb those in prayer.

    And confession, for many wayfarers in this material world, seems much in demand.

    The chapel offers confession seven days a week, all day long: Just ring the bell on the confessional door and a priest will appear. (It’s an unusual arrangement: The chapel’s office is on the other side of the confessional, and priests are in there, doing desk work.”


  28. albinus1 says:

    I’ve used the rosary app in Church, before when I forgot my real one once. I didn’t even get any looks, that I noticed

    “Rosary app”?? When I forget my rosary, I use my fingers.

  29. slainewe says:

    My holy books are over 50 years old and may last another 100 years or more. Another man’s tech device, with which he performs holy work, will be in the trash in 5 years. How can this EVER be considered respectful?

  30. albinus1 says:

    Quanah – thank you for you kind remarks, reminding me always to focus my attention on the charitable interpretation of things. And thank you for your prayers.

  31. smittyjr63 says:

    Looks like I’m not the only one…although when I was in confession it wasn’t an iPad, it was their iPhones. I have had two priests at two different congregations pull out their iPhones while I was giving a confession, and I was not behind a screen, we were face to face. Also, are priests allowed to bring bags of cookies into the confessional? I mean, can’t they wait to nibble after they’ve heard confessions? Another experience of mine….

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