I loved the first Austin Powers movie. The world was abundantly ready for a spy parody, and Powers hit the mark perfectly. Since its rapid decline (along with the equally rapid decline of my respect for Mike Myers, I’m sad to say), I don’t think about the franchise much. However, a recent news item reminded me of one particularly outrageously funny scene from the first movie.

The story? This:

An iPhone and iPad app that helps Roman Catholics seek forgiveness for their sins has been sanctioned by the Catholic Church. Confession: A Roman Catholic App, developed by Little iApps in South Bend, Ind., received an “imprimatur” — an official publication licence from the church — from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Indiana Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, the company said in a news release.

The scene? This:

It’s a little too on the nose, actually. The decrepit old man chasing around a younger one in a vain attempt to convey both paternal authority and familial affection. The Church has been chasing its own youth for years now, to no avail (and no, that is not an abuse joke – those aren’t funny; people were really hurt by that shit). The ultra-conservative attitude of the church toward pretty much every topic under the sun continues to alienate their younger members, to the point where some of their formerly-revered institutions are starting to resort to means of recruitment that are… less than dignified.

I remember my last confession. It was just over 10 years ago at a Holy Thursday mass that I attended with my parents. For those of you who don’t know, Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper before Jesus’ arrest, torture and execution at the hands of the Romans. It was a custom at our church to engage in feet washing, to emulate the portion of the last supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. Basically, the act is supposed to be a form of humility before your fellow man – a recognition that we are fundamentally no better than each other and a reminder to do service to one another. The religious overtones aside, it is actually a really nice gesture that is at least 2 degrees of separation from worshiping God.

At any rate, after the foot washing, we were all encouraged to complete the sacrament of Confession in preparation for Good Friday. Traditionally, confession is done behind a screen to protect the anonymity of the confessing parishioner, but given the sheer number of people, the priest decided to relax that rule and offer confession in the open. If you didn’t feel comfortable, there was no coercion, and priests were brought in from other parishes if you didn’t feel comfortable talking to someone who knows you personally. Being 16 and having pretty much nothing of real substance to confess, I went to Father Peter (his line was shortest – I guess not everyone had consciences as clean as mine). Halfway through confessing my “sins” (jealousy, the occasional porno), I realized I felt a lot better about the whole thing. Before the penance and the absolution that followed, I realized that confessing my inner turmoil to another person and having him listen and sympathize (although I hated Fr. Peter’s guts, he was remarkably tolerant and understanding toward me) was a great help.

Any actual value that can be drawn from confession of “sins” (a concept I don’t personally believe in anymore) comes from having a sympathetic ear. As useless as having God forgive your sins is, confessing to a phone strips away the only part of the act that has any merit whatsoever. The Vatican apparently thinks so too:

The Vatican put its foot down Wednesday over the idea of “confessing” by iPhone, after news that U.S. users can now download an application for the Apple gadget that helps the faithful gain absolution.  “It is essential to understand that the rites of penance require a personal dialogue between penitents and their confessor . . . It cannot be replaced by a computer application,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists.

Of course Fr. Lombardi and I likely agree for strikingly different reasons. I think that talking to someone about your problems helps put them in perspective and helps you to put words to your feelings. Both of these things are wonderful and important steps to resolving problems. The mumbo-jumbo about God forgiving you and the token penance of a few muttered prayers is just dross plastered over the process to reinforce the Church’s superiority complex. If you’re going to replace the one part of the process that makes it at all worthwhile, you might as well save $1.99 and just forgive yourself.

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  1. Funkydebunker says

    Do you remember the scene in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper”? He confesses to a computer, and at the end of it a bell goes off and a sign pops up which reads “ABSOLVED!”. Then a prize is delivered, like a vending machine or a carnical game. Woody nailed it then. Today the laughter seems a bit hollow and cynical- is there an app for that?

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