A couple of years back, I started to notice an uncanny occurrence: often things that I had spoken about (out loud) during the day would suddenly appear in online ads (e.g., on my Facebook). It didn’t take long for me to make the connection that the phone is always listening (even if, at that time, I did not use the phone’s voice features), and that that had implications for the line of work I’m in.
Even if there is not a human being physically listening to my conversations, much data is being captured and somehow being stored “someplace” and being used in various ways. Ways over which I have little to no control.
[Did you know that in 1988 — long before smartphones — the Vatican issued an excommunication for anyone who records a confession? The Seal of Confession is serious business!]
At some point, therefore, I realized that I must physically turn off my phone when I go to hear confessions. The Seal of Confession is inviolable: but the way the phone is “listening” in some way seems to put that in danger, even if we can’t be exactly sure how. So I formed the habit of always turning my phone off both when I hear confessions and when I go to the sacrament myself.
I can’t seem to find a link now, but sometime in the past couple of years there was an article I think from Polish bishops who warned about this: priests should turn off their phone when they go in the box, or leave it someplace else.
The question arises: What about the various apps that help a penitent prepare for the sacrament? I think it’s fine to use them beforehand, but I would only use it to jog my memory; I wouldn’t “register” in some way my sins in it. If I needed a list to help me remember everything, I’d do the old fashioned thing and write it down on paper, taking care to destroy it afterwards.
I am unaware of any ruling either from the Vatican or the Bishops’ Conference on this matter. But I do think it’s serious and merits consideration. Our phones are incredible inventions that bring the whole world to our fingertips and give us so many conveniences. But they bring real concerns about privacy also.
I don’t want anyone other than the priest and God to hear my confession. So I turn my phone off whenever I go in “the box”!