NO, Catholics cannot go to confession via an Apple iPhone.
No, the Catholic Church is not selling an iPhone app to be used for confession.
No, this app does not replace confession.
No, you cannot confess long distance.
No, you cannot confess using your computer.
No, the Vatican does not endorse this app.
No, the Vatican does not condemn this app.
Yes, the app has the imprimatur of one U.S. Bishop acting under his personal authority.
Yes, this app does guide you through an examination of conscience.
Yes, the app is flawed but the developer is updating it.
Fr. Z reports on this here, here, here, and here. Jeff Geerling comments on it here. You can get the app here for $1.99.
[To those who may not know, ‘app’ is short for application, or a computer program, particularly one that is designed to work on advanced cell phones or hand-held computers.]
Actually, you can confess your sins to anyone: your spouse, a stranger on a bus, your bartender, or even directly to God (although He already knows all of your sins, past, present, and future). You can only get absolution through a priest however, after confessing to him.
It is funny how the world hates the idea of Confession — implying all sorts of sinister motives to it, while simultaneously endorsing psychological analysis. Unlike the priest in the confessional, the psychologist knows who you are, where you live, and requires names, places, and details that must never be revealed in the box. And a psychologist almost always charges you for the service, while a priest must never charge you. Nowadays, a lot of people are being forced to go to psychoanalysis. On the contrary, you can go to confession and confess whatever you want, or if you aren't a sinner, then you don't have to go at all; you can do the penance (often just saying one Our Father) or you don't; no one is forcing you to do anything. [Yes, I'm cynical here]. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, noted that Catholics who frequented the sacrament of confession had no need to see him.
Guaranteed absolute secrecy used to be a distinctive feature of the sacrament of confession, but this was called into question several decades ago, and many now consider it unimportant. [A correspondent tells me that during a recent first confession at her church, the girls invariable confessed face-to-face, while the boys invariably confessed behind the screen. I'm not quite sure what to make of this.] I think practical secrecy is utterly important, and certain old customs, such as never confessing to a superior, confessing behind a screen, confessing at a church that has long confessional lines, and taking advantage of confession during a pilgrimage or during a parish mission is prudential, although obviously not essential.
The secrecy inherent in the traditional confessional is good for penitents — it does lessen anxiety — it is also good for priests and may lessen the risk of false accusations.
Here in Saint Louis, the sacrament is available widely.