SOUTH BEND, INDIANA // Can your iPad or iPhone bring you closer to God? A new application for the devices aims to help Roman Catholics who haven't been to the confessional in a while keep track of their sins, one commandment at a time.
The $1.99 (Dh7.30) Confession: A Roman Catholic App cannot grant forgiveness: the person still needs to receive the sacrament from a real, live priest like always. The app's designers and some believers see it as a way to spur Catholics back into the habit of repenting.
Patrick Leinen, one of the developers and a co-founder of the company Little iApps, said: "There's a reason we designed it for these mobile devices: we want you to go to confession."
Over the past few decades, American Catholics have been receiving the penitential sacrament less frequently, and many of them may not know how it's done.
The Rev Dan Scheidt, the pastor of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, who advised the developers, said: "As somebody who's heard thousands of confessions, there are some people who get so scared coming in that they lose their train of thought and they're not able to remember everything they planned to say."
The text-based app takes the user through the Ten Commandments, with a slew of questions attached to each, a process known as an examination of conscience, which penitents undergo before confession.
Questions range from "Have I wished evil upon another person?" to "Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?" and users can check a box next to each sin they have committed.
Once that's done, the app lists the user's sins and displays a written act of contrition, a prayer recited by the penitent. From there, it walks the user through the rest of the steps of confession and even advises when to say "amen".
Melanie Williams, 17, is a Catholic who helped to test the app after co-developer Chip Leinen asked for volunteers at the area high school where he runs a youth group.
Melanie said she used to freeze up whenever the time came to confess: "I have a horrible time remembering what I want to say when I'm actually in the confessional."
With the app, "when I get to the confessional and I'm able to say all these things, it makes me feel a lot better", she said. "When you're done, an inspirational message pops up. It's so cool. It feels like that's just what I needed to hear at that moment."
Religious applications for mobile devices are nothing new. Things like daily inspirational text messages and digital compasses that point Muslims in the direction of Mecca have been around since the early years of mobile technology.
But as that technology becomes a bigger part of daily life, the faithful are finding ways to incorporate it into their religious lives, said Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M University who studies how religious communities use technology.
"People now are saying, 'We live our lives connected to the internet 24 hours a day, so how do we highlight our spirituality in the same way?'" she said.
Response to the new app from the church has been cautious but positive; the Rev Kevin Rhoades, the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, gave his imprimatur to the app, essentially an acknowledgement that it does not conflict with Catholic teaching. The Vatican weighed in as word of the app spread through Catholic circles. A church spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, stressed that only a priest may hear confession.
"This cannot be substituted by any computer application," he said. This must be emphasised to avoid misunderstandings. One cannot speak in any way of 'confession by iPhone'."
But a Catholic could use a digital instrument, such as an iPhone, to prepare for confession in the same way people once did with a pen and paper, he said. The Catholic Church is far from a novice when it comes to using new technology to reach its practitioners: Catholic apps cover everything from the calendar of the liturgical year to guides for priests on celebrating the Mass.