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Oh, no: priest uses smart phone in confessional October 13, 2014

Posted by Tantumblogo in abdication of duty, Basics, Dallas Diocese, disaster, episcopate, error, foolishness, General Catholic, Interior Life, North Deanery, priests, Sacraments, sadness, scandals.
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I had the following related to me by a new commenter recently.  This is simply their allegation, I have no other evidence.  The allegation is that a priest at a parish in McKinney was using their smart phone while hearing Confessions.  That is not to say that they were talking on the phone, but there are many other avenues of communication with a smart phone – text, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, the whole panoply of social media.  I have reviewed the matter with several knowledgeable lay people and two trusted priests.  First, the allegation:

A priest was hearing my confession the other day – one of the gravest confessions of my life – and I could see his iPhone glowing behind the screen, and his thumb moving across it. (I haven’t shared this on social media – in fact this is the first time I’ve said it “out loud.”)

There was much more in the comment left, but that was the only bit about the confessional.  I was quite scandalized when I first read the comment, and replied with one of my own that was probably a bit too strong.  I see no reason why the commenter would be making this matter up. I am taking the allegation at face value, but do bear in mind that it is only one side of the story.

But, having discussed the matter with the aforementioned faithful souls and reflected on it for some time, and assuming the comment was genuine and related the facts correctly, I can say the following (the conditions were, auricular Confession with the penitent separated from the priest by a screen that could be somewhat seen through.  I have no idea if at this parish the priests can ID the penitents, but the penitents can apparently see something of what the priest is doing):

  • This is an egregious abuse of charity.  Even if the priest was only looking up some matter related to the case of the penitent (dubious), it gives the appearance of being disinterested at a most critical and sensitive time.  It is terrible pastoral practice.  If the priest does feel it necessary or helpful to research some matter while in the confessional, he should make what he is doing plain to the penitent, to assuage them of scandal.
  • The risk of scandalizing the penitent is enormous.  For all the penitent knows, the priest could have been texting someone saying “get a load of what this person just said!”  I pray that is not the case, I think it unlikely, but to operate a communications device of any kind while in the confessional casts serious doubt on the sanctity of the Sacrament and the validity of the seal.  Again, disastrous pastoral practice.  It could probably never be proved that the priest was communicating with someone – or that he was not – but to even give the impression that such could be occurring could be devastating to many souls.
  • This matter has apparently come up in the Diocese of Rome and the diocese issued a dictum of some kind banning priests from using cell phones in the confessional.  That should be clear, I think, in every diocese.
  • One can only imagine the hurt and violation a penitent would feel in this situation.  There they are, pouring their soul out, and the priest gives the impression he is at the least giving them something less than his full attention.  That could cause wavering souls, souls who have perhaps been away from the Church and the Sacrament for a very long time, to never return.  What an incalculable loss that would be.
  • A letter should be sent to the Diocese of Dallas reporting the incident.  If the commenter reads this post, be charitable and focus on the scandal and hurt this cell phone use caused you.  You could send a copy of the letter to the priest/parish in question – the Diocese will almost certainly forward your report to the pastor of the parish in question, regardless.
  • This is not a matter that will result in laicization or any kind of heavy disciplinary action against the priest – unless there was clear evidence the seal had been violated – but it is very important and certainly should be conveyed, charitably, to local authorities.  One would hope that a letter or other communique by Bishop Farrell would be made to the priest in question and that he be advised to stop with the smart phone in the Confessional.

Confession is such a crucial, helpful, but at the same time personal and sensitive Sacrament, its sanctity must be guarded with great vigilance.  Over the past several decades, Confession has been downplayed and ignored in so many dioceses and parishes. I know this is something Bishop Farrell has made a point of trying to rectify in our own Diocese of Dallas. So I am certain Bishop Farrell would take this matter very seriously and respond appropriately.

Confession is the great, forgotten Sacrament of our post-conciliar age.  So many Catholics erroneously believe that Confession is either no longer necessary or doesn’t apply to them – apparently, they are sinless, like our Blessed Mother.  Even among the few Catholics who always satisfy their Sunday obligation, Confession is quite rare.  Few receive Confession even yearly, let alone every week or two as many Saints prescribe.  To scandalize those few who do avail themselves of this beautiful and utterly vital Sacrament is simply unconscionable.

I made this post more public because I think it a matter that is deserving of wider attention and consideration.  Let us not see smart phones in the confessional (I know some priests already object if they observe penitents using smart phones or other such devices).  I think this is a matter of common sense and decency.

Comments

1. cg - October 13, 2014

Reblogged this on Catholic Glasses and commented:
This is wrong. This priest violated the penitent’s rights. There are Canon Laws defining abuse in the Confessional. Sadly, the Vatican does not bother itself to correct abuses against a penitent in the Confession. Pray for them!

2. c matt - October 13, 2014

Ironic, isn’t it, that we are admonished to turn of cell phones before Mass, and a priest allegedly using one during confession?

“Bless me father for I have sinned, please turn off all cell phones before I continue…”

Although, I would hope if it did happen, it was being used as a resource as you say, and I might not even object if a priest, because of a particularly thorny issue, wanted to be sure he was correct about something – and letting me know that is what he was doing.

3. Kristen - October 13, 2014

I was the original commenter, and I’m sorry that I did not see your reply yet. I will certainly go and check it out. I know you have no way of corroborating my story, but I can assure you that it did happen, and furthermore it is not the first time. I also saw a priest looking at a smart phone during confession at another parish in the diocese a few years ago, but I didn’t bring it up because he seemed to put it away only a few seconds into the confession. However – and call me out on this if you wish – I don’t think he should be looking at it at all while he is hearing confession. Maybe to check the time? But even then it seems inappropriate.

In this other case about which I commented, from just over a week ago, I could clearly see the phone screen glowing and a thumb moving across it when I came into the confessional and knelt. I could see it clearly as my first words were spoken, all the way through “Bless me father…” etc. I don’t know how long he had the phone out; I wasn’t staring directly through the screen looking for it. It’s hard to recall because I was thinking about my confession, but I’m pretty sure I averted my eyes.

I know you don’t know me from Adam but this isn’t something I would lie about. I hesitated before even mentioning it, but to me it is a symptom of an even bigger problem I have found in the diocese of a lack of reverence in general. I never thought of myself as a traditionalist but every Sunday I head more and more in that direction.

God bless you and thanks for your awesome blog.

Tantumblogo - October 13, 2014

I was being exceptionally understanding to the priest. My reply to your original comment was a bit different.

And mind, I do not doubt your story in the slightest. But if I don’t throw in that verbiage, someone will come by saying I shouldn’t accept a claim that like at face value, we should withhold judgment because we don’t know all the facts, blah blah blah.

I have to have lawyer weasel language even on my own blog.

Kristen - October 14, 2014

Understood, and I do appreciate your care with the matter.

4. Chris Baker - October 13, 2014

Is discussing this a form of gossip? Perhaps detraction? Maybe just a general violation of the 8th Commandment?

Sure we don’t know the name of the priest, but McKinney has two parishes, and those parishes have a total of four priests.

Why assume the worst about our priests, which is done far too often in the general media and now here in a local blog?

Pray for our priests, especially those in McKinney. May the Holy Spirit protect them from all harm. St Michael, defend them!

Tantumblogo - October 13, 2014

It might be advisable to change it to “local” priest. But on second thought, there is still relative anonymity and this is something that could happen to any of a number of people who may frequent parishes in that town. I think it also of sufficient magnitude to make the matter public. It’s a judgment call and a matter of prudence. You may disagree but I wasn’t doing it to be malicious – I could have been a lot harsher with the priest, for one.

5. Kim - October 13, 2014

Not trying to one up or anything—-but a few wks ago we had a substitute priest (very chatty friendly guy in retirement). I’m the pianist/organist and when he gave me Communion he took the time to tell me how much he liked my playing and even asked if I knew a certain piece of music. I smiled but didn’t answer. Very awkward. I decided that maybe he was a little senile.

6. Matthew B. Rose - October 14, 2014

I say we should always err on the positive. Another possibility that has not been brought up in this discussion is that the priest might have (I would say probably was) using the phone for prayer/religious matters. I personally do not have a smart phone, but I know from family and friends that there are an enormous wealth of resources via apps for such devices. Perhaps most entire libraries from the Catholic tradition are available at our finger tips. Likewise, the entire Divine Office is available in such apps, as is the Roman Missal. Fr. Z discussed this very issue (though it was with an iPad, rather than a smart phone) here: http://wdtprs.com/blog/2013/12/quaeritur-father-had-an-ipad-in-the-confessional/

I would not be worried, unless the penitent clearly saw what the priest was doing with his phone (that is, could clearly read the words on the screen). Priest often use their time in the confessional to pray the Office, polish up their homily for their next Mass, read spiritual reading (Bible, Church Fathers, other works of spirituality, etc), or even meditate. Father potentially has his entire library and then some in his pocket. Just as we would not freak out if we say father with a Bible on his lap in the confessional, so also we should not freak out in this case.

If there are only four priests who serve this particular town, and one can narrow down which priest it was, then perhaps it might be best to privately, respectfully, address the issue with him.

And as far as the comments about the priest texting sins to another, or in other such ways gossiping during such a sacrament, while I know other priests in the past have done graver abuses of greater sacraments (namely the Eucharist), I have a hard time believing that a priest willing to sit and hear our confessions would have the audacity, the disrespect, the evil intention to so directly break the seal of confession, which as we all know leads to automatic excommunication, forgivable by the Holy See alone. Idle chit-chat is not worth that. Nothing is worth that.

We should be all likewise be respectful of the men whom God has called to serve us and to serve Him.

God bless,

Matthew B. Rose

7. TG - October 14, 2014

Good advice Tantum. Our new priest talks a lot about Confession. When he gave me my penance last time, he said to offer it for the poor souls in purgatory. I was surprised to hear the word “purgatory” but I was happy to hear it from a priest. Isn’t it sad that we’re happy when our priests seem to be Catholic.


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