What is St. Damien’s Confession Box?

If approved by the Holy See following a study and evaluation by competent Church authority, the StDamien Confession Box, by permission of the bishop to be used in his diocese, becomes a special confessional inside the church which may be located alongside other traditional confessionals.  For security purposes, this may also be located in a separate room where the priest and the penitent can use the two laptops placed on top of  a table, with them sitting along side  or  facing each other. What makes it special is its ability to allow deaf people and those who have speech difficulties to participate better in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Is there a variety of deafness and speech-related disabilities?

Yes, from mild hard-of-hearing to profound deafness. There are also several larynx-related disorders including permanent tracheotomy, laryngeal cancer, and aphonia (partial or total voice loss).  Another form of disability related to the voice box is a disorder of speech behavior marked by involuntary pauses in speech.  StDamien Confession Box intends to be of use to all people with various deafness and speech-related disabilities.

Why is there a need for such special confessional?

This tool is aimed primarily at deaf people who cannot hear and those with speech impediments who may not be able to communicate effectively to the priest hearing their confession.  Most priests are also not trained or proficient enough in sign language conversation.

Can they use an interpreter in making their confession?

Yes, they can, provided they find an approved interpreter which is neither easy to do nor readily possible.  The StDamien Confession Box, when installed inside the church in a modified ordinary confessional  or in a separate room,  will be readily available all the time.

Can they write their confession and give it to the priest?

Yes, they can. For this you need a writing paper and a pen or pencil. Your handwriting must also be legible enough to be read by the priest.  Written notes need to be completely discarded or, if possible, burned.  But the problem in writing is that it is very cumbersome. Today people are not used to writing in longhand any more. Even writing in block letters does not make it any easier for both the penitent and the priest. Today, people are more familiar with typing on a keyboard. And besides it’s faster and easier to edit and delete.

Where will the penitent and the priest write in StDamien Confession Box?

Using the keyboard of an ordinary laptop computer specially setup to connect exclusively with one other laptop, the penitent and priest will type and send their messages to each other via the special software running on both computers. The penitent’s laptop is located in the penitent’s side of the confessional, while the priest’s at his side.  Both laptops have functionalities restricted only for use during confession.  They cannot be used for other purposes.

So both the priest and the penitent write on their individual laptops?

Yes, these two laptops are linked together by a special wire or cable that does not use any other electronic device.

How is it possible that they can write to each other without using a wireless connection?

Very simple. The two computers are re-configured to accept signals coming in and from a specially designed software application that allows the two users to communicate through a special physical wire. It is therefore a two-way secured computer communication system via Ethernet connection, which does not connect to the internet.  The signals between the two computers are contained or isolated between them.  There is no possibility of the signal travelling somewhere else.  There is a password embedded in the computer of the priest so that only authorized people can use it.

Is this confession considered done by electronic means?

Yes it is. But it is no more electronic than using an evolved or improved electric typewriter.

How can you be sure no third party  can read what is written by the penitent and the priest to each other?

All communication capabilities of both computers such as WiFi, Bluetooth, and dial-up connections are disabled, downgraded, uninstalled, or removed. The network pairing is without any server and no other computer device is able to join the connection. Cross-cable physical cable is used. The messages are not stored anywhere after the confession.

Are the Church directives on the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance respected and applied?

Yes. In the first place the “matter and form” of the sacrament are present. Secondly, the priest and penitent are present to each other; and thirdly, the priest verbally pronounces the prayer of absolution whether he is heard or not.

Isn’t  it complicated to use, especially for the elderly  or those who know nothing about computers?

On the contrary it is very simple. Anyone who knows how to “text” can use it. Today texting is so common and cuts across social and economic classes. The instruction on how to begin and end is very simple and clear. And in between the beginning and end, there are buttons to click like “Start” “Enter,”  End Confession” or “Listen to the words of absolution”.

Linguistic requirements such as grammars and spellings are also not needed or observed because the computer is configured to accept any mistakes in spelling or grammar.  For the convenience of the penitent, the traditional prayers are also written on the penitent’s screen including the “Act of Contrition.”

Describe some more the software and hardware technologies involved

Two closed-hardware system computers of same model using Windows 7 or 8 operating system are required.  These two are linked together by a UTP crossover cable wire CAT-5 with RJ-45 connectors.  Identical software is running on both, with a password embedded in the priest’s computer. In the development of the software a number of existing software available on the open-source platform have been utilized and customized.  Since they come from the open-source platform, no intellectual property rights are violated or infringed upon.

In this age of cyber attacks, is there a possibility of  StDamien Confession Box  becoming a target of such attacks?

Cyber-attacks are of concern for centralized network systems or internet-connected networks. StDamien Confession Box is a closed stand-alone,  peer-to-peer,  two connection system that has no internet connectivity and thus cannot be attacked remotely.

Can a potential individual hacker physically enter the penitent’s side for the purpose of copying  files?

This is not possible. There are no files to be copied on the penitent’s computer. The software is installed only on the priest’s computer. The penitent’s computer connects to the priest’s computer only to run the application. There is nothing special installed on the penitent’s computer, in fact it is even severely minimized with only the basic operating system functionally installed with restrictions. The USB ports are sealed and other network connectivity is disabled so there is no possible way to get any information out.

Can a potential hacker take a picture of the penitent’s screen?

Yes, he can. But that should not be a cause for concern. He can only see what he has already seen: his own words and the words of the priest during confession are generic and can be found in books. The words of absolution come from an approved formula found in the Roman Ritual.

Is there any historical precedent in the use of technology  that converts a manual operation to mechanical in the history of the Church?

Yes, to name only two:  Before the printing press was invented in 1440, the Bible had been copied by hand. Without the printed Bible millions of people would have been deprived of reading the Word of God.  The same also with the use of microphones or amplifiers, without them the priest’s unaided voice could not reach large audiences when he delivers his sermon. Now Mass can be watched on TV by the sick in homes or hospitals.   Even the Pope uses Twitter now.

Is there any cost to the Church to have and install this confessional?

No more than the cost of a dishwasher or a clothes washing machine. The computers may be bought from any store. A technical guide on how to configure and connect them will be provided.  The software will be provided remotely, free of charge to any priest, Church or institution that requests for it.

Finally, how can I view the sample of the screens?

The links found below can be clicked to watch an online version of the StDamien Confession Box.

NOTE: It is required that you use two computers to view the links (one computer for each link). If you only have one computer, use two different browsers to view the links (one browser for each link). Otherwise the chat functionality will NOT WORK. Please use Mozilla Firefox as your browser to enjoy full functionality. Other browsers you can use are the following: Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Opera.

Penitent’s screen: http://www.benjworks.com/stdamien/econfession/index.html

Priest’s screen: http://www.benjworks.com/stdamien/econfession/priest.html

(Videos may load with some delay depending on your internet connection speed.)

The ASL interpreter is the Rev. Michael A. Depcik, OSFS, a priest from the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. He has his own website, Fr. MD’s Kitchen Table, an online pastoral outreach to deaf persons.