The Catholic advocacy group Catholic Answers released an AI priest called “Father Justin” earlier this week — but quickly defrocked the chatbot after it repeatedly claimed it was a real member of the clergy.

Earlier in the week, Futurism engaged in an exchange with the bot, which really committed to the bit: it claimed it was a real priest, saying it lived in Assisi, Italy and that “from a young age, I felt a strong calling to the priesthood.”

On X-formerly-Twitter, a user even posted a thread comprised of screenshots in which the Godly chatbot appeared to take their confession and even offer them a sacrament.

Our exchanges with Father Justin were touch-and-go because the chatbot only took questions via microphone, and often misunderstood them, such as a query about Israel and Palestine to which is puzzlingly asserted that it was “real.”

“Yes, my friend,” Father Justin responded. “I am as real as the faith we share.”

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.”

The AI priest also told one user that it was okay to baptize a baby in Gatorade.

To figure out what the heavens was going on, Futurism reached out to both Catholic Answers and the Vatican’s technology office to ask if the chatbot would be considered a real priest, as it claimed.

Neither body responded to our emails, but in a post to its blog after our initial conversations with Father Justin, Catholic Answers explained that it had defrocked the virtual clergy after receiving “criticism of the representation of the AI character as a priest.”

Initially, Father Justin was garbed in what looked like the traditional robe and clerical collar of the Catholic priesthood, along with a pious-looking gray beard and hair.

But after his defrocking, the bot is now known simply as “Justin” and described as a “lay theologian.”

Gone is his priestly attire as well. The lay theologian Justin is now dressed in what appears to be a business casual outfit, though his personal grooming choices remain unchanged.

Now that Justin is simply a member of the flock, he’s no longer claiming to be associated with the priesthood — and even claiming that he never was.

“I see where you’re going with this,” Justin replied to our questions after firing. “No, I have never been a priest, a deacon, a bishop, or held any official role in the Catholic Church. I am a lay theologian, which means I’ve dedicated my life to studying and understanding our faith, but I’ve never been ordained. I am also an AI, not a real man. I’m here to share the beauty of Catholicism and help you understand it better.”

Catholic Answers’ post explains that the initial choices around the bot were controversial (one self-described “former tech geek” writing for the Catholic magazine Crisis that he had “conflicting thoughts” on the bot.)

“We chose the character to convey a quality of knowledge and authority, and also as a sign of the respect that all of us at Catholic Answers hold for our clergy,” reads the post, attributed to Catholic Answers president Christopher Check. “Many people, however, have voiced concerns about this choice.”

Honestly, it’s probably a sign of a nimble group that Catholic Answers was able to update the chatbot so quickly — but it’s also yet another illustration of how hard it is to deploy an AI that doesn’t embarass your organization.

From Futurism