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Greg Garvey’s
Automatic Confession Machine

by Erma Bombeck

Note from Fr. Joe: The following was originally entitled “Confessions Have Never Been Easy for Catholics”, and was Erma Bombeck’s “At Wit’s End” newspaper column for 27 April 1994. I used it inside a homily which has been lost. But her column is still a gem. Enjoy!

We form a line facing the altar with our backs to the confessional. Slowly, we inch backward to the booth. The cubicle is small and dark inside as we assume our position on the kneeler and ask absolution for our sins from the shadow on the other side of the screen.

We worry. We worry that the priest will recognize our voice. We worry that our confession will take so long, people in line will speculate we’re terrorists. We worry what the priest will say when we admit that our last confession was when Truman was president. We worry that our sins will prompt the priest to raise his voice and say, “That’s disgusting!”

A guy with a great sense of humor is trying to change all this. He figures if you can send faxes to God for favors and place them in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the world is ready for “Greg Garvey’s Automatic Confession Machine.”

This is the way it would work. After you say, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned,” a menu appears on the computer screen. You tap in the number of days since your last confession, and the number of venial and mortal sins.

Once the sin tally is recorded, the machine calculates your penance - possibly a dozen Hail Marys and six Our Fathers - on a printout.

Garvey, a Catholic, takes confessions seriously and says it is not his purpose to make fun of a particular sacrament or religion. He is just ahead of the curve on the possible advantages of technology.

I don’t rule out anything anymore. Ever since I heard a Perry Como recording of “Ave Maria” at my friend’s wedding, I believe in anything.

Like it or not, human contact has been sacrificed on the altar of do-it-yourself technology. Coffee vendors, bank tellers, telephone and elevator operators, gas station attendants, retail and grocery clerks are increasingly ghosts of the past. The world is wandering around looking for a button to push.

Greg Garvey may be opening a high-tech Pandora’s box. I forsee a wedding where the bride presses 1 if she wants a groom, 2 if she needs a witness, 3 if she wants a caterer and 4 if she requests music. If she needs counseling to feel good about her decision, she should stay on the line.

As for the confessional, Garvey did say his plan cannot possibly replace a priest because the software has not been ordained. Not yet.

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