You might think the chat room you visited last night was a virtual confessional, especially after seeing that guy spill his guts about sleeping with his cousin's boyfriend's wife. More and more, though, the faithful are looking to the Web to fess up and seek absolution. At the First Electronic Church of America (www.fecha.org) and a dozen others, you can slip virtually into a wood-paneled booth, kneel beside your monitor, and type "Forgive me, father, for I have sinned." Some even save you the trouble of typing, offering buttons to click for sins of avarice, lust, sloth, and more. Submit your confession and you're given a copy of the Lord's Prayer or a penance of, say, a couple of Hail Marys.
But don't expect to click your way through the Pearly Gates. The idea of virtual confessions isn't likely to get much of a hearing at the Vatican. Confessing "on the Internet is like talking to a bartender, except that with the bartender at least you get a drink," says Father George Maslar, who hears scores of confessions daily at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.