Confessionals in the Catholic Church have seen less foot traffic over the past several decades. Much of that traffic, it seems, has moved to anonymous online confessionals.
DailyConfession.com receives hundreds of anonymous confessions and over 1 million hits each day. The website tells visitors to confess their sins but it doesn't necessarily provide the peace and the forgiveness that a person would find in the church. Although it categorizes confessions by the 10 commandments, it's a secular forum. And while some are serious confessions, a lot of confessors reveal "kooky-weird" habits, some of which have been compiled into a book – Coming Clean.
Webmaster Greg Fox clearly tells visitors that each confession is "shamelessly presented to the entire planet, for the whole world to read."
Confessing anonymously on the Web has become a major outlet for both young and mature adults with DailyConfession being one of many web-based ways to get secrets or sins off their chest.
Meanwhile, only 14 percent of U.S. Catholics receive the sacrament once a year, a 2005 poll by Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate found. Only 2 percent receive it once a month or more, and 42 percent do not receive it at all.
Reports indicate a change in feelings toward the sacrament. Some Catholics don't feel every sin has to be confessed, or they believe their sins are too serious to be forgiven or that God will forgive them directly without the ministry of a priest. Still others are angry, apathetic, or embarrassed, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
"We all sin, but to know that another person knows your particular sin is pretty awkward. If the priest sees me on the street later, what's he going to think?" said Maria Carmel Vasquez, a business major at the University of the Incarnate Word international, according to Express-News.
Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader at LifeChurch.tv – an evangelical multi-site church with an average weekly attendance of 18,000 – believes people keep secrets because they feel no one else could understand why they did what they did.
Gruenewald was part of a team of people at Life Church that launched MySecret.tv - an anonymous confessions website. Originally intended for its church members, MySecret.tv became widely popular outside the church after launching last August and now has about 6,000 confessions.
Although some Christians are critical of the online confessional, with some expressing concern of voyeurism, MySecret.tv encourages online visitors not only to be prayerful when reading other people's confessions, but to make their own confession a prayer.
For Protestant Christians, confessionals are not necessary to confess sins and ask for forgiveness from God.
"We believe ... you can confess your sins directly to God. You don't necessarily have to go through a priest or a pastor to do so," said Gruenewald.
Thus, even when confessing anonymously online, it can be a real confession to God.
"In some cases when people are confessing in this fashion online, depending on the nature of how they word their confession, they're really making it, I believe, a heartfelt confession to God," he noted.
Although Life Church founding pastor Craig Groeschel says he can't promise anything when someone confesses before a computer, it's the first step to absolution.
"When you confess to God, according to Scripture, God is faithful and just to forgive you of your sins and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness," he says.
MySecret.tv's confessions speak of addiction to pornography, depression and adultery among other problems, but many of them end in a request for prayer.
The popularity of the website and other confessional sites may be explained by a sense of community - mainly, a community of sinners.
"When they're able to see that there are other people that are dealing with some of the same challenges or some of the deep and dark secrets, we're able to see that even though it's done anonymously, it becomes a catalyst to realize they're not alone," Gruenewald explained.