A Phoenix, Ariz., priest has invented a computer system intended to help Catholics who are deaf, hearing-impaired or speech-impaired to make their confessions.
Father Romuald P. Zantua, the system’s inventor, told CBCP News that his invention will help increase the practice of confessions, especially for deaf people who have limited access to priests who know sign language.
The website for the system, called St. Damien’s Confession Box, says it is primarily aimed at the deaf and those with speech impediments who may not be able to communicate well to the priest hearing their confession.
“Most priests are also not trained or proficient enough in sign language conversation,” the website said.
About 500,000 Americans use sign language as their principal means of communication.
The system runs special software that uses two dedicated, secured computers. All network connectivity options are disabled except for an Ethernet connection, which connects the devices with a network cable.
The penitent and the priest each have their own computer. They communicate through typed messages on a chat program. The messages are erased at the end of each confession.
The system is still awaiting approval from the Holy See. The National Catholic Office for the Deaf and the National Catholic Partnership on Disability have helped assess and revise the system in its development.
Church law recognizes that the deaf may confess through written communication or an approved interpreter, though all confessions must be made in person.
A video presentation for St. Damien’s Confession Box said there will “always be a need” for priests who know American Sign Language, but the system provides an alternative in the absence of such priests.
The system is named for Saint Damien of Molokai, a priest who ministered to Hawaiian lepers and contracted leprosy himself. He was forbidden to leave the island of Molokai and faced great difficulty making his own confession.
The St. Damien’s Confession Box website is http://stdamien.org.