New Confessions iPhone App

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I love my iPhone. This week, there was quite a buzz about a new app for the iPhone targeted at helping Roman Catholics with the sacrament of confession. A few days ago, Maureen Dowd wrote a whole column about the app in the New York Times. The app has quickly rocketed up the list of top iPhone apps, and when I downloaded it this morning to check it out for myself, it was listed as #34 on the list of Top 50 paid iPhone apps.

The organization Truth Wins Out (TWO) has now condemned the app as a form of antigay bigotry, and the Advocate has a post on its web site about the app and TWO’s reaction to it. From the TWO press release:

“This is cyber spiritual abuse that promotes backward ideas in a modern package,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director, Wayne Besen. “Gay Catholics don’t need to confess, they need to come out of the closet and challenge anti-gay dogma. The false idea that being gay is something to be ashamed of has destroyed too many lives. This iPhone App is facilitating and furthering the harm.”

After reading this, I had to download the app and take a look at it for myself. As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, I have come to expect (from experience) intolerance from the Church. And this app just further confirms that experience. I logged in as a variety of different people (i.e., single adult man, single adult woman, married man, married woman, priest) and walked through the examination of conscience to see what kinds of things it was focusing on. (And it is worth noting that you can always add your own custom questions to the examination of conscience.) The two commandments whose questions really struck me were the fifth and the sixth.

Under the Fifth Commandment (“You shall not kill”), the first question was not whether I had killed or physically harmed anyone (that’s the second question), but whether I had had (for women) or encouraged anyone to have (for men) an abortion. Interestingly, I was also asked whether I had “mutilated myself through any form of sterilization” or had “encouraged or condoned sterilization.” I guess that not procreating at every possible turn results in the death of all those potential lives? In any event, you get a clear sense of the priorities here.

Under the Sixth Commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”), for the single man and single woman, I was first asked whether I have engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage. OK, why the “outside of marriage” qualifier? Having logged in as “single,” there is no need to limit the question to sexual activity “outside of marriage” because I indicated that I am not married. So, basically, it should just be asking me whether I have engaged in any sexual activity at all. Then, for the sake of what can only be either a prurient interest in the details of my sex life or the advancement of a specific agenda, I am asked specifically whether I have been “guilty of any homosexual activity.” Hence the labeling of this app as antigay.

For the married folks, the first question under the Sixth Commandment is whether I have been faithful to my marriage vows. The next two questions then deal with procreation, asking whether I have used any form of contraception or engaged in sexual acts with my spouse that were not “open to the transmission of new life,” underscoring the importance of the questions regarding sterilization that I was just asked to ponder under the Fifth Commandment.

Of course, even though homosexual activity is just as much adultery as heterosexual activity with someone other than your spouse is–and, therefore, is fully covered by the first question regarding fidelity to one’s marriage vows–there is still a separate question about whether I have been “guilty of any homosexual activity.” Again, this seems like they are just going out of their way to condemn homosexuality and shame gays and lesbians–because we are apparently doubly sinful, needing twice the questions to get at precisely the same sin.

I was also asked under the Sixth Commandment whether I masturbate and whether I am “careful to dress modestly” (for both men and women). Funny, I don’t remember that last one from catechism classes. And, interestingly, I did a quick search for “catholic school girl costume” on Google and the first two ads that were featured at the top of the page were for “sexy” (not Halloween) catholic school girl costumes. The church itself seems to be running into a bit of trouble in observing its own admonition regarding modest dress aimed at promoting chaste thoughts when its own uniforms are a stock sexual fantasy.

The priests get a whole different set of questions. Rather than going commandment by commandment, they go by “responsibilities” (i.e., to God, to promises and vows, to my ministry, to others, to society). The priests are asked a bunch of questions relating to sex: Have I engaged in sexual fantasies? Have I looked at others lustfully? Have I read pornographic literature or looked at pornographic pictures, shows or movies? Have I masturbated? Have I flirted with anyone? Have I lustfully kissed or sexually touched someone? Have I had sexual intercourse?

Notice which question did not appear on this list. There is no question regarding whether the priests have been guilty of homosexual activity. Perhaps given the Church’s efforts to purge gays from the priesthood, they don’t believe there are any left. It seems more likely that they are trying to downplay their presence in the priesthood while, at the same time, highlighting there existence in general society.

I can’t seem to muster up the same outrage to this app that TWO does. But, then, the message sent by this app is in line with everything that I heard growing up in the Church. It probably would have been more remarkable had the app not asked about homosexual activity at all (and, as alluded to above, I think the failure to ask priests this same question speaks volumes all its own).

One thing I do have to give them credit for–under responsibilities to society, a priest is asked whether he has paid his taxes!

-Tony Infanti

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