CAIRO – Egypt’s Coptic pope has banned the faithful from confessing their sins to priests over the telephone because intelligence agents might be listening in, a newspaper reported on Friday.
“Confessions over the telephone are forbidden, because there is a chance the telephones are monitored and the confessions will reach state security,” the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom quoted Pope Shenuda III as saying.
The leader of the Coptic minority also said confessions over the Internet were invalid because they might be read by websurfers.
“A confession over the Internet does not count as a confession, because everybody can look at it and it won’t be secret,” he said.
The Catholic Church’s reasons for not allowing confessions over distances is rooted in her sacramental theology. Every Sacrament is a personal encounter with the Lord in and through the person of the minister. In the Gospels every act of forgiveness was personal with the person present to him (with healing this was not always so.)
The type of reasoning above overlooks the fact that a confessional booth could be bugged and there was the case where a sacramental confession heard in prison was taped. In those cases of listening in would certainly not invalidate the confession, though it is certainly sinful and those people would be bound by the seal of confession. The same goes for an especially loud penitent when you can accidentally overhear a confession while waiting in line, in that case you would be bound to the seal of confession.
The sacrament of confession, also practiced by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, is normally a very private conversation between penitent and priest.
Unlike Roman Catholic confessions, Coptic confessions are done face to face.
Well actually Catholics can confess face to face also, though they always have the right to confess anonymously behind a protective screen.
Coptic Patriarch Anba Morcos said that people have begun to phone in their confessions.
“It’s a new thing; it’s been happening for the past four or five years,” he said.
That is rather odd that the question is just being addressed now. The Catholic Church answered the question shortly after the telephone was invented. Some people wondered again about this after the internet became popular, but the questions was really already answered. It is not about something being overheard or spied upon because you could use PGP encryption on both ends via email and have a higher chance of security than inside of a confessional. Confession like all of the sacraments is a personal encounter with Christ .
Morcos added that Pope Shenuda has also banned monks in Coptic monasteries from using cell phones.
Of course any personal telephone including a landline the monk used would be “cell” phone by definition.