There have been spades of media reports this Lent about other Christian denominations in the United States taking on and adapting traditionally Catholic devotions and Lenten practices: as a young single friend of mine recently said, gone are the days when Ash Wednesday at work could double for twentysomethings as "Catholic potential mate identification day." There’s little to criticize in the borrowing of Catholic practices by other Christians, and in fact is in many ways a testimony to the power of the Catholic sacramental imagination. This one,
however, takes the cake. Online confession? Leaving aside the privacy issues (is there anyone left who really thinks the Internet is anonymous?), the practice of "online confession" was highlighted in a CNN report today as a method "where anonymity is a substitute for privacy and the intimacy traditionally experienced by talking to a priest, therapist or friend is replaced by a virtual community of strangers." It goes without saying that these confessions are an invalid form of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but what do they say about our culture? Sitting face to face with a priest (even with a curtain or screen in between) reinforces the incarnational aspect of the Catholic sacrament. You’re not confessing to a community, you’re confessing directly to God through an ordained minister who is serving in persona Christi.
What’s more, authentic confessions are protected by civil law (and even more stringently by canon law), assuring the penitent that what he or she confesses is not only truly forgiven, it is also truly forgotten. When we abandon the intimacy and authenticity of person-to-person reconciliation, we deny a fundamental aspect of sacramental theology: sacraments are administered in person, by persons, for persons. Why? Because Jesus was a person who ministered to persons, as were the apostles he commissioned to establish His Church. There are few things more terrifying than confessing one’s sins to a priest. And few sacramental moments more consoling. Have these words ever been used to describe the Internet? Jim Keane, SJ