Forgive Me, Dot-Com Father, for I Have Sinned

HARTFORD COURANT

Need to cleanse your soul without getting up close and personal with a cleric? No need to kneel in a dark closet or confess face to face. Unburden yourself online.

In February, the only nondenominational Christian radio station in the United Kingdom, Premier Christian Radio in London, launched an online confessional, http://www.theconfessor.co.uk, where visitors pour out their sins to a computer screen. Within 72 hours of the launch, a million people reportedly visited the site.

The Confessor arose from a brainstorming session of Premier Christian Radio executives about how Web surfers could use the Internet in a Christian way. Peter Kerridge, the managing director, was part of the team who thought of online confessions.

"When people go to confession, they go to a church and sit in a little brown box and talk to someone who is a complete stranger about very intimate things," Kerridge said. The Internet "has huge potential for people who don't go to church and don't dream of ever going."

On the site, a small frame pops up, flashing sentences such as "Here's an opportunity for confession and repentance." Two arrow keys lead the confessor through each frame, set against a background of sky and clouds.

Before the confession, the user is invited to read Bible excerpts about confessing sins to God and about what sin means and its consequences. Kerridge hopes the site's content and layout give confessors a religious experience.

"It takes them on a journey of faith," Kerridge said. "I think it rings true for many people that confession is a way of getting rid of the garbage in [their] life."

In the next screen, the confessor confesses sins by typing them in a box or choosing a prepared confession "already used by Christians the world over."

Confessions are confidential, station executives say, and once you click the arrow key, the confession is erased. The arrows do not even allow you to return to your typed confession. The confession also doesn't remain in your computer's memory. (And, sorry folks, but you can't read others' confessions.)

"What happens to that confession? The good answer is nothing happens to it," Kerridge said. "The confession is wiped clean."

Brief scriptures, reflection and a final prayer follow the confession.

Kerridge said he's heard complaints from a couple of priests, but "the Catholic Church has been particularly responsive."

But William Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said that the church does not recognize online confessions and that people who use the Web site will not receive absolution.

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