Penitents choosing online confessions over traditional church ritual

Websites create new trend by offering penitents opportunity to confess sins online
Friday, December 21, 2007 | 1:00 p.m. CST; updated 11:41 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — Like it has for just about everything else, the Internet has led to new trends in penance.

Web sites such as, run by a Protestant church in Florida, and, which arranges confessions based on the 10 Commandments, offer penitents a chance to forgive themselves through anonymous, online confessions.

At, penitents can choose from a list of different sins, then “proceed to confessional.” A screen will appear that offers the penitent a prayer and a penance to perform for absolution. The site features a disclaimer that it is not affiliated with the Catholic Church and does not make any claims about the effectiveness of the online confession.

At the Universal Life Church, known for its free online ordinations, people can fill out a form online explaining the nature of their sins, then check boxes to forgive themselves, forgive others or both.

These Web sites resemble self-help tools, offering penitents a way to feel better and confess their sins without going to a priest. Though some of the confessions seem to have been created more as a joke than anything else — including the girl who admitted her deep, dark, two-tins-a-day Altoids addiction — some of the confessions posted on these sites are heartfelt, profound, saddening and, at times, a bit frightening.

Although some Catholic priests say they commend the use of these sites as a way to provide cathartic release, they say it does not work the same as the traditional confession, in part because these sites don’t offer the symbolic opportunity for the community, represented by the priest, to absolve the person of sin. Indeed, the Vatican has announced that the use of these sites is not recognized as part of the rite of reconciliation.

“The priest is acting in the name of the community. It was not only God who is affected and offended by your sins, not only you who is hurting, but also the community,” said Father Steve Kuhlmann of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Columbia. “It’s through the ministry of the church, the ministry of the community, that we (as priests) offer absolution.”

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