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Catholic Answers’ “failure to launch” AI priest

OSV News
OSV News
OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics, in accordance with Catholic teaching.
This is a screenshot of “Father Justin,” an AI chatbot simulating a priest in order to answer questions for teaching apostolate Catholic Answers.

Executives from the apologetics nonprofit Catholic Answers told OSV News they remain committed to exploring artificial intelligence, after the launch of the group’s “Father Justin” AI project sparked intense backlash online — and resulted in the character’s swift “laicisation” to just “Justin.”

The nonprofit debuted a “Father Justin” interactive AI app 23 April, aiming “to provide users with faithful and educational answers to questions about Catholicism,” according to an announcement that day by the organisation.

But Father Justin’s preference for addressing users as “my child,” and his statements indicating he could actually give absolution and preside at the sacrament of matrimony, drew howls of condemnation in Catholic cyberspace.

“We’re no less resolved to make good use of this technology to continue our work of apologetics and evangelisation,” Christopher Check, president of Catholic Answers, said.

“We regard this (incident) as an opportunity to take some feedback and move forward with it.”

Catholic Answers information technology director Chris Costello said the organisation’s goal with the app is to help give people “a start to your (spiritual) journey” that helps them hone their questions.

Oblate Father Thomas Dailey, John Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics and Social Communications at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, said the “Father Justin” launch, though fraught, showed “people’s interest in both the technology and its application for faith matters.”

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