I can't say I always look forward to participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Still, I go. Not as often as I should, perhaps. But I try. There have been times when I've felt that the priest barely listened to me or he reacted too harshly to what I had to say. A reminder, I suppose, that while the sacrament may help me to achieve a more perfect relationship with God, those who administer the sacrament are not, themselves, perfect. Still, despite my aprehensions and the occasional grumpy confessor, my time in the confessional most often results in some truly productive conversations with caring and inspirational priests. I get advice, consolation, hope. I never regret going.
Which is why I can understand why the bishops of France are troubled by a new service in that country called "Le Fil du Seigneur", or "The Line of the Lord," which offers people a chance to confess their sins over the phone. To no one. For a fee. According to Yahoo! news:
"For advice on confessing, press one. To confess, press two. To listen to some confessions, press three," says a soothing male voice, welcoming the caller to "Le Fil du Seigneur", or "The Line of the Lord" service.
"In case of serious or mortal sins -- that is, sins that have cut you off from Christ our Lord, it is indispensable to confide in a priest," warns the 0.34 euros a minute service.
The Conference of French Bishops, which groups the country's Catholic leaders, warned in a statement that the line had "no approval from the Catholic Church in France."
The site was set up this month at the beginning of the Christian fasting period of Lent by a group of Catholics working for AABAS, a small Paris company that provides telephone messaging services, its creator told AFP.
It does not offer absolution for sins, which only a priest can provide, said the creator, Camille, who asked for her second name not be cited because she had received threats about the service.
"The idea is to confess sins which are not capital sins, but minor sins, directly to God," she said, adding that the line received about 300 calls in its first week.
Callers do not talk to a person but are offered an "atmosphere of piety and reflection," where they can listen to prayers, music and other people's confessions and can opt to record their own.
The bishops said telephone services had a role to play in lending an ear to the aged, isolated or those with disabilities, but "it is unacceptable to allow confusion over the notion of confession," they added.
"For the Catholic faithful, confession has a sacramental meaning and requires the real presence of a priest."
Camille said part of the money received for the calls goes to charity. The service costs 0.34 euros (0.46 dollars) a minute plus a connection charge for mobile phones, though a cheaper non-charity line costs 0.12 euros.
The line says on its website that it aims to encourage youngsters to confess at a time when church attendance is "in free-fall."
Camille is careful to say that she doesn't mean for the service to replace the sacrament, but to me the whole thing just seems bizarre. If I was planning to skip confession in favor of talking "directly to God," I'm not sure why I'd want to pay someone else for the priviledge. And why not simply make a donation to a charity of my choice, instead of the unnamed organization that supposedly receives the funds raised from this line? This service seems only to take advantage of those who may feel lost or are uncomfortable participating in the sacrament of reconciliation. I'm going to stick with the good ol' confessional and the hope of holding a prayerful conversation with a fellow imperfect pilgrim.