Time for confession at Times of London

So, once again there is a major error in a major story out there in the major media and we cannot really discuss its contents because it is behind a pay-for-content firewall. Trust me, I know that the future of journalism depends on journalists getting paid for the product that they produce, yet I also know that the future includes interactivity and blogging. 'Tis a puzzlement. The story is the new iPhone and iPad app that helps Catholics prepare to go to confession.

So let's start with a news report on this development that you can read, which is over at CNN.com:

(CNN) -- Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been 300 tweets since my last confession.

Whether you've been "borrowing" free Wi-Fi or coveting your neighbor's avatar -- or, heaven forbid, something worse -- a new mobile app is designed to help you atone for it.

Lame tech jokes aside, the makers of "Confession: A Roman Catholic App" say their software is seriously designed to help believers with the sacrament, and to help those who have left the church take a digital step back home.

Worry not, faithful Catholics: The $1.99 application, for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, is not intended to replace the confessional. Instead, it's designed to complement the act of confession, offering a "personal examination of conscience" (password-protected, of course) and a step-by-step guide to sin-confessing.

The app provides suggested acts of contrition and the "ability to add sins not listed in standard examination of conscience."

And there, my friends, is the key phrase -- "examination of conscience." This app is actually a combination between a personal diary and the "examination of conscience" booklets and tracts that Catholic and Orthodox Christians have carried in their pockets, wallets and purses for generations. As Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a popular Catholic blogger, notes at his "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" website:

I am all for anything that gets people to go to confession. But let's be clear about something: The iPhone app is for preparing to go to confession. It is not a substitute for going to confession. ...

It has an imprimatur from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The app store says that it was developed by Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, the Exec. Director of the Secretariate for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices for the USCCB and Fr. Dan Scheidt, pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Indiana. WDTPRS applauds their effort.

The problem, you see, is that many readers who are fans of all things Rupert Murdoch are reacting to the lede in a story (behind that firewall) in The Times (of London).

Alas, here is the top of that story (care of the omnipresent Father Kendall Harmon of TitusOneNine):

Roman Catholic bishops have approved a new iPhone and iPad app that allows users to make confession with a virtual "priest" over the internet.

"Confession: A Roman Catholic App", which went on sale through Apple's iTunes website ... last week, offers "a personalised examination of conscience for each user", according to its makers. It asks penitents to list sins they have committed by misdeed or omission.

Senior Church officials in the US and Britain have approved the app, which they say can be used by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The lede is totally wrong. There is no "virtual" priest and no "virtual" sacrament. Period.

Now, is there a more accurate wording later on in the story? I don't know. Ask me in a few weeks when the iPad 2.0 comes out and I try out The Daily, that is, if Murdoch has decided to allow his own media holdings to work together in a digital product.

Meanwhile, we do live in a sinful, fallen world and this inaccurate perception is spreading. Thus, at the Economic Times one can read a headline that states, "No time to visit church? Confess via iPhone." The lede states:

LONDON: Users of iPhone can now perform contrition and other religious rituals without visiting church, thanks to a new online application.

"Confession: A Roman Catholic App", created by a US-based company called Little iApps, is designed for Apple devices such as iPhone, iPad and iPod, the Telegraph reported. ... It offers password protected customised profiles, a guide to performing the sacrament as well as a list of acts of contrition.

What in the world does that lede mean? The key words, of course, are "without visiting church." Well, it is true that priests can hear confessions just about anywhere -- face to face. This does not, as of yet, include FaceTime to FaceTime. We are talking about a sacrament encounter between a believer and God, with a priest hearing the confession as a representative of the church, the Body of Christ. What does the Economic Times mean by "other religious rituals"?

So how does one correct an error of this magnitude? I think the London Times needs to do an entirely new story. Meanwhile, Murdoch (who is an Anglican) might want to go to confession and see how that process works.

If you find other reports about this subject -- good and bad -- please note them in the comments pages. Thanks.

Photo: Yes, I know that confession booths (second photo) are now considered old fashioned and that many priests and penitents prefer face-to-face confession in the newer Rite of Reconciliation.

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