URGENT! ALL PRIESTS… ALL PENITENTS GOING TO CONFESSION… ACTION ITEM!

I received this email.

First, let me say… GO TO CONFESSION! That means PRIESTS too!

Next, use my tips for making a good confession. HERE

Now… I received this email.

Good afternoon, Father.

In the middle of a recent confession, something I said must have triggered the ever-listening Amazon app on the priest’s phone, and Alexa suddenly blurted out, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that.”

This set me to speculating over the possibility of surveillance through our cell phones. Just think of how many apps we happily grant access to our microphones (including the CCP-beholden TikTok)–I fear a scenario wherein a well-intentioned person can inadvertently undermine the privacy of the confessional through lack of vigilance.

In the past, you have (rightfully) criticized efforts to introduce long-distance phone confession/absolution as a serious threat to privacy. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to consider this angle as well.  [It is not only a threat to privacy but the absolution would be INVALID.  Absolution cannot be given at a distance over a phone or by ham radio, etc.]

I hesitate to bring this up anywhere because I would hate to discourage anxious penitents or for people to start hounding their priests about it, but might it be prudent for Church leaders to discuss the possible consequences modern technology has for confession privacy and issue guidance for priests, if they haven’t already?

Fathers… is it necessary to take your phone into the confessional?   Really?

Lay people… is it necessary to take your phone into the confessional?  Really?

Bottom line.  It is probably a very bad idea to take your phone into the confessional.

Lastly, Fathers, if you are parish priests, pastors, and you aren’t providing adequate times for people to go confession, and if you are not teaching about confession, you should consider the Four Last Things, and in particular Hell.

 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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15 Comments

  1. Don’t bring the phone into the confessional, even turned off.

  2. Chiara says:

    Oh. My. Word!

    Another reason for priests *not* to bring a phone to Confession: I went to Confession at a neighboring parish. I entered the confessional, which was completely darkened on the penitent side of the grille, but lit on the confessor’s side.

    As I spilled my guts and admitted my miserable sins, I could see Father checking the Internet on his cell phone, and then return to a video game. He occasionally made a short comment or question. I know he could not possibly see me, but he ought to have known I could see him. It was embarrassing and rather upsetting for me, since I really needed to confess, and it takes everything in me to force myself through the confessional door.

    I suppose it was good for my humility, but perhaps any priests reading this will remember that while the penitent may be anonymous, he (the priest) is not, and we can often see him.

    Merry Christmas, and peace to all here.

  3. redneckpride4ever says:

    There’s only 2 times I’ve deliberately brought my phone into a Catholic Church.

    1) To record the baptism of my son for my homebound parents to see.

    2) Right after Roe v Wade was overturned and there was a threat of attacks during Masses nationwide I brought it to Mass in the event something bad went down and I needed to record evidence. Fortunately we were alright.

    In the first case it was turned off. In the second case it was on silent.

  4. Sue in soCal says:

    Alexa is not your only worry. Cell phones, computers, even your wide screen TV can be turned on remotely and used as listening devices. Keeping your phone in an EMP bag is one way to try to thwart eavesdropping and data breeches.

    Thanks for the reminder about confession and to leave cell phones outside the confessional.

  5. Cornelius says:

    Because completely silencing a phone often doesn’t really work (why is it so hard?), I never bring a phone into a church, must less the confessional. I’m always afraid it’ll go off.

    Unless you’re a first responder on call (e.g., ER physician, EMT, police, or fire), I see no reason to have a phone in church. Disconnect and give that one hour entirely to the Almighty.

  6. Fr. Andrew says:

    Also remember that some smart watches- when linked to phones- have the capabilities of phones, people can even call or accidentally call via their smart watches.

  7. L. says:

    There was a nice presentation on the subject of cell phones and other “listening devices” by Will Thibeau of the Heritage Foundation at the Catholic Bar Association Annual Meeting in October in Dallas. The title of his presentation was Big Tech and the American Citizen: Free Speech, Privacy, and Policy. There was a specific discussion of cell phones in confessionals as a bad idea.

  8. hwriggles4 says:

    redneckpride4ever:

    I have been doing that too since Roe v. Wade. I normally sit near the back and I haven’t seen anything unusual.

    I do bring my phone in “on silent” and I do have the Archdiocese for the Military Services app that links to the readings. I do use it during the readings and I sometimes quietly mention to those around me what I am doing.

    I do the latter particularly to let those know that I am not playing- I could see a 5-year old say “mom, that guy’s texting during Church”.

  9. Mike says:

    Yes, even turned off, Smart Phones are a problem. Mostly, however, for identification of location.

  10. hwriggles4 says:

    Here’s a true story about phones:

    A few months ago we had a permanent deacon preaching the homily at Mass and the priest briefly and discreetly left the altar for a few minutes during the homily.

    After Mass the priest was telling two friends of mine that his phone vibrated several times on the “emergency line” so he felt the need to take the call. I would say this is rare, but I could see this happening.

    I was telling this priest that sometimes it’s hard to find a priest for a sick call not just due to packed schedules, but some priests will say “he or she isn’t one of my parishioners” or “I am off duty”. This makes life harder for the priest who takes the call even if it takes him an hour to get to the home, clinic, or hospital. My mother tells me stories about her priest sitting up all night at the hospital after a nurse has called at least two other rectories.

    This priest also said that he had 30 minutes to return a call on the “emergency line” and a 30 minute timeframe is normal for doctors. In this situation it sounded like the caller was able to summon one of the two other priests since Father was saying Mass.

  11. Lurker 59 says:

    Alexa is just a bit more proactive than the others — Google, Siri, Cortana, etc. they are all “listening”. We are rapidly moving towards the point where wearable ai assistant/augmented reality devices are as ubiquitous as socks.

    Consider for a moment people wearing prescription glasses that have built-in assistance/augmented reality (audio + video recording). They are selling that stuff at Walmart — Average Joe’s have them.

    —-
    My mind is like a sieve. I bring an electronic device into the confessional with the permission of the priest so I can read off what I cannot remember under stress. Just write it down? Well, you mean print it out, but then think about the trees and someone can get that out of the trash. There are also several Confession Apps out there that are promoted widely enough and I know people are using them without thinking of asking the priest or being aware that there might be a problem.

  12. jflare29 says:

    Ehrm, well, I generally will carry my phone into the confessional. In my coat pocket. Turned off.
    2 reasons:
    1. There’s no place else to put it.
    2. I may have need of it while at church.
    I like to think that most people will be honest in a church. Even so, …some well-intended person may assume that someone lost their phone, …and take it to the rectory for lost and found. …and incidentally deprive me of my $200 (plus) phone.
    We could argue, I suppose, that one could leave it in the car, instead of bringing it inside. Trouble there is…I may need it. I never expected it, yet I had need a few years ago to call 911 during Mass; another parishioner literally collapsed at the communion rail.
    Tough to tell whether someone can turn my phone on remotely, to track it. ..I would be happier if I could remove the battery, to be sure. Phones have not allowed such for some time…. I DO know that this area has initiated a service which allows emergency services to track you by your phones location. …For obvious security reasons, I intend to refrain from acquiring that app.
    In my coat pocket turned off will serve needs nicely.
    ….Besides which, if a book–like a Liber–would be temporarily lost in the shuffle of music (it happened last night), I can always use ChantTools on the phone to provide the chants for the Mass.

  13. maternalView says:

    Confession during Mass relieves me of the anxiety of leaving my purse with my phone unattended while in the confessional. With others around it’s unlikely someone will take off with my belongings.

    If ever I go to confession in an unfamiliar church at a time that’s not Mass I will have to remember to leave my phone in the car.

    Now I’m thinking I need to reconsider even taking my phone into Mass.

  14. APX says:

    Fathers… is it necessary to take your phone into the confessional? Really?

    We did have a priest who got an emergency call for last rites on his cellphone in the middle of scheduled confession times one evening. One of our parishioners hung himself. He was still “alive” (barely), but succumbed to his injuries shortly thereafter. Fortunately our church is less than 10 minutes from the hospital, so he got last rites before he died.

    Perhaps someone needs to be put in charge of Father’s cell phone during confessions in case of emergencies.

  15. JesusFreak84 says:

    Leaving your phone in your car is asking for your car to be broken into. Even in the glove box, you’re asking for heat or cold damage at certain times of the year and, as another person has already mentioned, these phones ain’t cheap, and a lot of us are probably going to be locked out of a lot of MFA accounts if our phones are damaged, lost, or stolen. The crooks are probably going to check your glove box anyway. Get a Faraday bag if it bugs you that much. (Faraday Defense is made in MI, aka not in China, if you want a suggestion.) If you can’t have your phone with you in church without touching it, that’s a You problem, not a Me problem or an Anyone Else problem. You put your keys away and forget about them, no?

    As far as priests being distracted in Confession, that predated cell phones by a long shot. The last time I ever went to Confession at my baptismal parish, over a decade ago, before the first iPhone existed, the priest was reading a Maryknoll issue the entire time, pages turning and everything. A priest who is not taking the Sacrament seriously can have a book just as easily as his phone. Let’s not think to hard about what Fr. James Martin probably has with him in the box…

    As to the tracking, um, know who else can tell the government where you’ve been on Sundays? Everyone else there. And anyone else who knows you to some degree. Most of my friends and family know exactly which Mass at exactly which parish I am at on Sundays. To put a very blunt point on it, the Soviets didn’t need “smart” devices to raid churches, so I don’t know why people act like this is a new threat that Catholics didn’t face 40 years ago. You can’t stick humans in a faraday bag. The CCP is perfectly willing and able to use “analog” tracking, too. When governments were doing “contact tracing” during the height of WuFlu nonsense, humans were a greater source of data than automated tracking.

    I’m actually antsy to suggest a priest let his phone be out of his custody unless he’s locking it in a safe. Do you want your phone cracked, Fathers, by someone with malicious intentions who can download who-knows-what? Even if you were saying Mass at the time, that won’t help you in the 202x world :( So if you DO refuse to have the phone on your person during Mass, LOCK IT UP! Secure that thing like you would a firearm.

    Aaaaall of that said, priests or laity, whether you have android or iOS, learn about your device’s Do Not Disturb, Focus, ScreenTime, etc., settings and USE THEM. I never had my phone go off during work and distract my coworkers because I used the features the dang thing had to prevent that. Same for Mass. And turn Siri off if you don’t like it. I’ve never had Siri enabled and I lose nothing of value. Most of what people presume is malicious intent with these pieces of hardware is nothing more than the “tyranny of the default.” The priest in the original question, I doubt, INTENDED to leave Alexa on; he probably just has NO CLUE how to turn it off.

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