Talk to us

CathNews, the most frequently visited Catholic website in Australia, is your daily news service featuring Catholics and Catholicism from home and around the world, Mass on Demand and on line, prayer, meditation, reflections, opinion, and reviews. And, what's more - it's free!

A screenshot of ‘Father Justin’, an AI chatbot simulating a priest, taken before the character was changed to ‘Justin’ (OSV News screenshot/Catholic Answers)

A new AI priest, launched by a Catholic teaching apostolate to answer questions about the faith, has been “laicised” after sparking online backlash. Source: OSV News.

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

Father Justin — a bearded, bushy-browed white male in clerical attire, who sat placidly overlooking the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi in Italy’s Perugia province — was named for St Justin Martyr, a second-century convert and apologist, said Catholic Answers in its release.

Catholic Answers IT director Chris Costello said the app’s parish priest character “honour(ed) real-life priests and the role they play in people’s lives,” conveying an “authoritative yet approachable” demeanour that befits “the spirit and nature of the responses users can expect.”

At the same time, “we are confident that our users will not mistake the AI for a human being,” he said.

However, following pushback on social media regarding some of the answers given by the app’s character, Catholic Answers President Christopher Check said in an April 24 statement that Father Justin had been “rendered … (as) just ‘Justin’.

“We won’t say he’s been laicised, because he never was a real priest!” said Mr Check in his statement, noting that “many people … have voiced concerns” about the decision to create a priest character for the app.

Mr Check said that Catholic Answers did not want the character to distract from the important purpose of the application, which was to provide sound answers to questions about the Catholic faith in an innovative way that makes good use of the benefits of artificial intelligence.

The character’s clerical garb has since been changed for a casual button-down shirt.


AI ‘Priest’ Sparks More Backlash Than Belief (By Gina Christian, OSV News)