Some may call it the "Jesus Phone," but the Vatican is seeking to remind the faithful that there are limits to mixing the sacraments with technology--even when it comes to the iPhone.
A new application for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch that lists sins to be taken to the confessional earned a cautionary warning from the Vatican today. Actually, it wasn't so much the app getting a rebuke as it was the hype that accompanied it.
When it debuted earlier in the month, the $1.99 application, Confession: A Roman Catholic App, was described as preparation for Catholic confession and the ''perfect aid for every penitent."
Users create password-protected profiles and then go through a series of soul-searching questions related to the Ten Commandments. The app displays sins along with a written act of contrition for the penitent. It also lets users log "custom sins" and create "custom examinations of conscience."
Prayers stored in the app include such classics as the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, and Hail Mary.
After Kevin Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in Indiana gave the app an imprimatur, the story turned viral, with some articles referring to the app as a "virtual priest." But in a statement put out by the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi was quoted reminding Catholics that absolution requires a personal dialogue between penitents and the confessor.
"It's essential to understand that the sacrament of penance requires a personal dialogue between the penitent and the confessor, and absolution by the confessor who is present," he told reporters. "This is something that cannot be replaced by any application. One cannot speak of a 'confession via iPhone.'"
Patrick Leinen, who developed the iPhone application, said he welcomed the Vatican statement that the sacrament requires oral confession to a priest. "This app is intended to help a person prepare for the sacrament of confession," Leinen said. "It is not intended to function as a replacement for confession."
While the Vatican has expressed some concern over the way this particular app is used, church officials have given their blessing to gadget envangelism, saying the Bible should be available in all relevant forms of communication in today's Digital Age. In an official statement released in 2008, the Vatican stressed that besides printed text, "the voice of the divine word must also resonate over the radio, Internet channels with virtual online distribution, CDs, DVDs, iPods, and on television and cinema screens."
The Vatican has formally endorsed an iPhone app that allows users to load the Breviary prayer book, prayers for saying a Catholic Mass, and other prayers.
This story first appeared on CBSNews.com.