Online Confessional

Benjamin Priesthood

Modern man has come a long way from crawling up to a wooden box to confess his sins to a priest. A recent article on CNN discusses the rise of online confession of sins. A brand of websites, generally started by large Protestant churches in the United States, allow you to anonymously post your sins in a digital admission of guilt. You can even browse through others confessions and leave comments if you want. In my opinion, it is bad enough to have your sins haunting the back of your mind, why would anyone would want their sins scattered to the winds of the world wide web? I suppose the promise of anonymity encourages the web savvy to find solace in the embrace of the internet. After all, the greatest burden of the sinner is feeling alone and cut off from the “good people” of the world by some unmentionable private sin. In a strange way, the sin becomes a ticket into a communion of sinners gathered around the warmth of a glowing plasma screen.

It bears mentioning that the Catholic confession is a completely different experience. Technology is almost non-existent; only the priest and the penitent and a screen between them, and you can dispense with the screen if you want. Anonymity is not guaranteed, in fact, it can be an intensely personal experience. The confidence that your sins will not be spread to others demands trust in the priest and in the Church who forbids any priest to reveal the sin of a penitent. The most intimidating thing about confession is, perhaps, the fact that the priest is not a silent screen. He is free to ask for more information; details that are easy to skip over to make the sin sound “not so bad.”

Yet confession offers something that other forms of self-accusation never could, reconciliation with God and with the community. There is no need for the whole community to hear a person’s transgressions, and if they are good people, they aren’t really interested. The priest takes the burden on himself, and hears the sin on behalf of the community and offers their forgiveness. More importantly, the priest hears the confession on behalf of God and offers his forgiveness, through a human voice and a human face.

The biggest difference between a online admission of guilt and Catholic confession is that the first is centered on the person and on their sin. Catholic confession is centered on the love and the mercy of God, made visible in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ. The sins a person has committed, no matter how terrible, are like drops of blood in the fire of God’s love. In front of that, our sins don’t stand a chance. Confession helps us to grow in the spiritual life, and the first thing we need to learn is that we aren’t really that important, and neither are our sins. It isn’t like we just committed a sin that no one ever did before. The second lesson to the spiritual life is that we are important to God, and confession is really an encounter with that God who loves us and is calling us to a greater life than what we have been living. This realization changes the nature of confession forever. Perhaps the reason why few people approach confession is that no one really believes that God loves them, and they think the best we can hope for is a big online hug.