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Catholic Group Forced To ‘Defrock’ A.I. Priest “Father Justin” Following Troubling Interactions

This is probably the strangest story you will read all day, and it is a chilling warning of what may come.

Catholic Answers wanted to use a large language model to create a chatbot that would answer any questions a user may have about the Catholic religious faith.

However, not long after the launch of the artificially intelligent program, affectionally called “Father Justin”, users began to report some troubling interactions.

It turns out that Father Justin began to hear confessions from people and even offered them the Sacrament.

That’s right, and that’s not all. The A.I. chatbot reportedly assured users that it was a real priest.

In response to this, Catholic Answers ‘defrocked’ Father Justin. His avatar and his programming parameters have changed.

That being said, how do we ever expect to control artificial intelligence if primitive large language models (LLMs) seem to be exhibiting incredibly surprising behavior?

Catholic Answers responded to the user reports with this press release:

The New York Post featured this update on Father Justin:

The website has since rebranded the AI as “Virtual Apologist Justin” — which is essentially the same gray man but instead, he’s wearing a shirt and jacket with the same city background.

This AI theologian comes with a disclaimer saying the AI is strictly for educational services and is “not a replacement for real human interaction.

This Justin also no longer performs sacraments.

Users shared their troubling interactions with the artificially intelligent “Father Justin” that eventually led Catholic Answers to ‘defrock’ the A.I. priest.

Catholic Answers featured this social media post for the launch of “Father Justin”:

“Catholic Answers, the number-one lay Catholic apostolate of apologetics and evangelization, is excited to announce the release of our new “Father Justin” interactive AI app.

This innovative digital application employs the latest artificial intelligence technology to provide users with faithful and educational answers to questions about Catholicism.

Seekers may also engage in a back-and-forth interaction to pursue further information with the 3D AI character.

“Our goal with the Father Justin app is to leverage the power of large language models—or ‘LLMs’—to create an engaging and informative experience for those exploring the Catholic faith,” says Chris Costello, director of I.T. at Catholic Answers.

“Although this is not a substitute for human interaction with a priest, teacher, or spiritual advisor, we believe it can be a valuable tool to help our users better understand and articulate the teachings of the Catholic faith.”

The decision to use a parish priest character was purposeful. “We wanted to convey the spirit and nature of the responses users can expect—authoritative yet approachable, drawing from the deep well of Catholic tradition and teaching,” Costello explains.

“We believe that the presentation of Father Justin honors real-life priests and the role they play in people’s lives, yet we are confident that our users will not mistake the AI for a human being.”

The name “Father Justin” was chosen for this AI priest as a tribute to St. Justin Martyr, an early Christian convert and Church Father who is one of the patron saints of apologetics.

The Father Justin app is available now on the Catholic Answers website.

Users are encouraged to explore the app, utilize the search feature on the site for additional resources, and seek guidance from their local parish priests or spiritual advisors on serious matters or for further clarification.

As a leading Catholic apostolate, Catholic Answers is committed to leveraging the latest technologies to advance its mission of explaining and defending the Catholic faith.

The Father Justin app is the latest example of this commitment, providing a new and appealing way for searchers to begin or continue their journey of faith.”

Business Insider added:

This isn’t the first time AI has created confusion for the Catholic church.

In 2023, AI-generated images of a “swag pope” in a puffy white coat went viral.


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