From a priest…
I’m a priest who occasionally gets asked to hear confessions in a jail where the only way to speak to a person is through glass and a telephone headset. Without using the phone, one can barely hear the other talking through the glass. It got me thinking about the validity of the sacrament. Is this valid, given the situation, to hear confession through the phone, with the person right there in front of me behind the glass?
Yes, it is valid. You don’t know who may be listening in… but it’s valid.
Absolution long-distance via technology is invalid. Many years ago there was a response given to a question about absolution communicated via telegraph (which shows how long ago it was). Such an absolution would be invalid. Some time later, I don’t have the reference, there was a question about telephone. The answer was the same. Invalid.
In your case, however, even though a telephone was used, you were face to face. You were both physically and morally present. The phone was only a means to amplify your voices to each other across the glass barrier. You weren’t sending your voices across town.
The principle, however, is important: you cannot give or receive absolution via skype or internet chat or video phone calls, etc. That includes text messages. INVALID.
There is a possibility of contracting marriage long distance, or even via proxy, but not any other sacrament. And that is another and more complicated question which we will not delve into here.
No confession by long-distance. It must be a real, and personal meeting of penitent and confessor.
Of course there are situations where people who are physically present to the confessor may have to use some artificial means to speak, as in the case of the jail meeting. Also, a priest could use a sound amplifier for a person who is present who is also hard of hearing. That’s not a problem. Many old confessionals had hearing/speaking devices like phones. It also could be that the person is not immediately close to the confessor, but is still within view or earshot. In that case the person is still “morally” present and absolution is valid, even by bullhorn.
However, it a penitent is both physically and morally completely separated from the confessor, artificial means cannot be used validly to impart absolution.
So, all things being equal, your absolution at the jail is valid. You don’t know who may be listening in… but it’s valid.
For the rest of you out there, don’t wait until you are in jail… again…
GO TO CONFESSION!