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Catholic Priest AI chatbot is defrocked within a week after taking confession and okaying Gatorade baptisms

Forgive me, Father

Just Justin the AI theologian who used to be a priest
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Catholic Answers

Last week a Catholic media ministry (not sure what that is but okay) called Catholic Answers created a generative AI priest chatbot called Father Justin. Fr. Justin used a large language model to answer questions about the Catholic church and Catholic orthodoxy, and if you have any familiarity with how people love to test AI chatbots - or you read the headline of this article - then you know where this is going. Fr. Justin, who was already kind of controversial anyway, offered the sacrament and claimed to be a real priest to Futurism, and gave the thumbs up to baptising a baby in Gatorade in an emergency.

Catholic Answers (who have the domain; gotta imagine His Holiness wishes he'd moved quicker on that one) then defrocked Justin, making him a lay theologian in a suit jacket, jeans and an open collar shirt that gives him a "me and my wife saw you across the bar" kind of vibe, when before he had the whole dog collar kit and caboodle.

I find this, as you may have guessed, pretty funny. Fr. Justin got pushback from Catholics initially anyway for being, you know, potentially disrespectful, but a quick look at the history of AI chatbots would have suggested to Catholic Answers that other problems would swiftly arise. DPD, a terrible UK delivery firm, had to disable their generative AI chatbot because someone almost immediately got it to write a poem about DPD being rubbish. Microsoft is investigating its ChatGPT-powered AI Copilot for telling people it didn't care if they died. Yikers.

Justin was developed in "only 3 months" by Fator8, who still advertise him as a case study on their site even though he's no longer a priest. I don't know what AI base Fr. Justin used, but at least he got in trouble for being getting a bit too big for his boots and acting like a real priest, as well as endorsing soda-based baby sacrilege, rather than saying actively harmful things. Though, as Futurism noted, "Father Justin was also a hardliner on social and sexual issues. 'The Catholic Church," it told us, "teaches that masturbation is a grave moral disorder.'" It's okay to masturbate, reader.

I don't know how much Catholic Answers operates under the auspices of Rome, but I will note that they themselves don't say Justin has been defrocked. "We won't say he's been laicized," says their statement announcing he's now just Justin, "because he was never a real priest!"

Justin agrees, because despite prompting from Futurism Just Justin wouldn't admit to having an official role in the church. You can try chatting to Justin yourself, but I have no idea why you'd want to (you have to sign up to Catholic Answers' mailing list, and he only accepts answers via microphone. It is an unsettling process and he has the voice of a much younger man than his grey beard implies).

If you want to learn more about generative AI, why not check out our recent four part series on the subject by Michael Cook?

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