Communications Issues - The Catholic Church's "Confession" App

[Note: Please read through the comments at the end of this post for some great insights about this situation.]

Time and time again, I'm seeing media reports that portray something that happens in the Church with either incorrect, or easily-misconstrued wording, and it continually paints the Church in a strange—if not bad—light.

The latest example: a new app called 'Confession' on the iPhone App Store.

From BBC's article on the app:

It also allows them to examine their conscience based on personalised factors such as age, sex and marital status - but it is not intended to replace traditional confession entirely.

Instead, it encourages users to understand their actions and then visit their priest for absolution.

It would be nice if we could be a little more clear in this wording—this app in no way whatsoever replaces any part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is merely a tool/checklist to help penitents with their Examination of Conscience.

Since the article also points out that the Catholic Church has given its Imprimatur to this app, this surely means Catholics no longer need to visit the confessional to be absolved, correct? Nope. But that's the inference that will be drawn by almost every non-Catholic who knows anything about the Sacrament, and likely most Catholics as well (who goes to Reconciliation anymore, anyways? Isn't it some optional practice? </sarcasm>).

For example, from Geekologie: Catholic Church Approves Confession App

$1.99 to have your sins forgiven, not a bad deal! That's right folks, the Catholic Church has officially approved an iPhone app that guides worshipers through the process of confession. 

I've been monitoring many different aspects of the Church's communications over the past few years, and, as most of the readers of this post already know, it is easy to find many more examples of positive Catholic news gone awry—mostly because it was not communicated clearly, cohesivelyimmediately, and accessibly, to the media and to the public.

It is my goal (and I hope it is yours as well) to help make this happen less frequently.

[Update:] It was pointed out that an anchor on CNN's Newsroom also said of the app:

PHILLIPS: I'm a woman of the cloth, OK? All right. Here's the deal. For $1.99 you can now get this app, all right? And it's for sinners. And I'm not -- and the Catholic Church is actually saying -- endorsing this. So you don't have to go to church. You don't have to go see the priest. All you do is you go on to this app, OK, you log in.

(Source). [Emphasis mine]

I long for the day when I and others can spend more time communicating the truth, and new messages of hope and love, rather than clarifying that which others have said/introduced about the faith.


Mike Bates's picture

CNN'S Phillips Reports Priests Aren't Necessary for Confession

Didn't take long for the mainstream media to get it twisted.

Maria's picture

Those who created the app could have called it "Examination of Conscience" instead of "Confession"...

Jeff Geerling's picture

Unfortunately, due to the limitations of the text that displays on an iOS device, an app can't have that many letters... though that would help greatly.

I remember there also being a similar 'iConfess' app somewhere... I think - it may be off the store again, though.

Developer from St. Louis, MO. My personal website.

Anonymous's picture

I agree. A name other than "Confession" would have eliminated much of the misunderstanding.

Aaron B.'s picture

All Catholics who know better and realize how badly the media is getting this story wrong should take a lesson from this: they get everything this wrong. When that CNN anchor (or most any other) flat out makes a claim that you know is absolutely false, clearly showing that she's done no research and is simply repeating rumors she's heard . . . know that she does that about everything, from politics and war to entertainment and nutrition.

Jim Lackey's picture

Two things are going on here:

1. The way this story developed yesterday reminds me of the exercise of putting 10 people in a circle, telling the first person something that's happened, having the first person whisper it to the second, the second to the third, etc., and then find out how mangled the facts are by the time the story gets to the 10th person. The Get Religion blog today doesn't use that analogy, but notes how the "facts" of this story just got worse and worse. See

2. How much do we know about other people's religious practices? I'd be scared to death if I was a reporter for a daily newspaper sent to cover Sukkot at a synagogue that my coverage would be ridiculed by Jews just as much as we ridicule a secular reporter who can't tell the difference between a miter and a biretta. But part of the way to avoid ridicule is to not write stupid things that you're not sure of, just like the anchor on CNN Newsroom quoted above made a bad situation worse by not simply keeping her mouth shut!

Jim Lackey
Catholic News Service

Jeff Geerling's picture

Points are very well taken. Of course, I think the CNS, as well as a few other larger Catholic news reporting organizations, need to continue efforts at becoming more relevant and visible voices for the Church in the US particularly.

I would love to see stories like this appear in Google News and other places with first references to Catholic sources, and have sources like USA Today, CNN, et all appear later.

One of the contributing factors to the 'telephone chain' effect was that the main source, as far as I can tell, was a Reuters story...

Developer from St. Louis, MO. My personal website.