WelCom May 2020:
The social distancing measures imposed on most of the world’s population during the coronavirus pandemic have not only prevented Catholics from going in person to celebrate the Mass, but have also largely put a stop to the practice of confession.
This new reality, especially serious for those suffering from the virus or nearing the end of their lives, has revived conversation around a basic question: Why can’t we do this by phone?
A traditional concern has been the possible surveillance of electronic devices which might lead to a breach in the confessional seal. However advances in technology have greatly improved security, such that many Governments are using electronic media to hold their cabinet meetings.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, a number of theologians have said the idea of offering reconciliation at a distance should be explored more fully.
‘I think it’s really important to broaden the canvas,’ said Monsignor Liam Bergin, an Irish theologian at Boston College and a former rector of the Pontifical Irish College. ‘It’s also important to remember that the saving power of God is communicated to us in many, many ways.’
George Worgul, Jr, a theologian at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said he thought the prohibition on distance confessions might be a simple issue of the church not yet updating its canons to reflect modern developments.
“I think what you have going on here is you have rules that were created before the technology, and the church simply is not so attuned to changing those regulations because of emerging technology,’ he said.
The question of the possibility of confession by phone has become particularly acute in hospitals, where coronavirus patients are kept in isolation to prevent transmission of the virus and are unable to receive any visitors, including priests.
In March the Vatican addressed the difficulty in conducting confessions in a pandemic, making clear that it is acceptable for bishops to offer general absolution to groups of people as deemed necessary.
The decree, issued by the apostolic penitentiary, gave the example of a bishop or priest who might stand at the entrance of a hospital and use the facility’s amplification system to offer absolution to those in the building.
Source: National Catholic Reporter