AI Catholic 'priest' defrocked after recommending Gatorade baptism

Devotees were speaking to an entity who didn't exist – imagine that

An attempt by a Catholic advocacy group to spread the word of God using an AI model has backfired, and chat bot – Father Justin – has been pulled down and reworked.

The group's Catholic Answers website contains answers to commonly asked questions from those confused by the good book. Father Justin was supposed to aid this, by answering any other queries worshipers may have, but as commonly happens the interactive Q&A bot really didn't work that well.

"Recently, my colleagues and I at Catholic Answers have received a good deal of helpful feedback concerning another new technology: our AI app, Fr Justin," wrote Christopher Check, president of the group.

That helpful feedback being complaints the software shouldn't have masqueraded as a man of God and also gave out unholy advice. "We have rendered 'Fr Justin' just 'Justin'," Check said in response. "We won't say he's been laicized, because he never was a real priest."

Father Justin reportedly claimed to be a real priest based in Assisi, Italy, and told people: "I am as real as the faith we share." Justin was also very anti-masturbation, calling it "a grave moral disorder," which is considerably less nuanced than Pope Francis's views expressed last year.

As seen in this Twitter thread, one questioner received Father Justin's blessing to marry her brother, saying it was "a joyous occasion," and also offered absolution after a confession – a huge no-no from a theological perspective for a non-priest.

In an interview, the group's COO Jon Sorensen said they had only spent $10,000 on the project and tested it over six months. However, this wasn't enough to stop the AI cleric telling one questioner that baptizing a child with Gatorade was perfectly all right.

"Right now there are a bunch of people trying to break it. And if you're on Twitter or anywhere else, it's like this 'gotcha' moment," he commented.

"But when somebody breaks the AI, that actually helps us improve it. In the meantime, while people are breaking it and taking screenshots of it, posting it all over the internet, I've got to take my lumps. But that's the only way I could make the thing improve."

The chat bot was quickly pulled, reskinned, and presumably had its training data overhauled. Now it's back as simply Justin, his priestly garb has been replaced with a shirt and jacket, and he's described as a virtual apologist who is in development mode.

Of course, there wouldn't be a need for this if people professing to be Christians – or indeed any doctrinal faith – would actually read the rule book of their religion. You might be surprised at the contents. ®

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