AI and Priestly Ministry

AI is growing by leaps and bounds. It will change human destiny in the immediate future. This future is already present. It is capable of great promises as well as destruction. It is capable of taking us to new heights at the same time can destroy humanity as well as our planet earth. This is why we are in a critical position. Our choices will shape this future. Hence, we have challenge to make critical, cautious and, ethical choices. This study wishes to the discern the impact of AI on priestly ministry. Here we are not concerned with how AI can enhance various dimensions of priestly ministry but are trying to explore what kind of priestly ministry will remain , if any in a forth coming AI future.

Vatican has already held a conference in 1919 on Robotics and has initiated timely thinking of the impacts of AI on our society. This conference was organized by Pontifical Academy for Life. In February 20 20, Pope Francis approved a document establishing regulations for artificial intelligence ( Rome call for AI Ethics). In 2021 a symposium titled ‘ the Challenge of Artificial Intelligence for Human Society and the Idea of Human Person’ was organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture. Thus, in recent days we can see deep interest of the Church in AI and its consequences to human civilization.
This study is inspired by these great efforts and is attempts to explore, understand and address the challenge of this scenario for priestly ministry.

There are real fears that AI will replace priests, pastors and pastoral care givers. We do have AI robots delivering sermons. But AI cannot generate human experience. Hence, a heartless and a soulless machine cannot take the place of priest. But with the growing presence of AI around us , humanity might familiarize with it and soon we may have AI-generated worship services. Hence, there are real dangers of AI disrupting authentic human presence and leadership in religious life. Priests and faithful may no longer find the AI intervention in worship as sacrilegious and may fast incorporate AI into religious practices. AI can therefore, be used to enhance priestly ministry and worship. AI may produce great music for worship, but may not able to lead worship that requires it to generate human experience. Spiritual experience requires grace and human empathy. Thus, it is beyond AI to truly empathize with humans at the deepest level. Empathy does enable a priest to intercede for the people and give appropriate pastoral care. . This is why experts dismiss the view that holds that AI will replace humans.

AI will not replace priests and pastors but priestly ministry will have to change in an AI dominated atmosphere. This is why we have the challenge to resist the temptation not to use AI . AI is not a techno-serpent in the techno-garden. It may produce the best liturgies and prayers using Chat-GPT, but they still remain heartless, soulless and spiritless. Hence, generation of human experience is the litmus test that AI fails. Although, it may seem that with AI, we are now standing at the new tree of knowledge of good and evil as AI seems to give us excess to limitless knowledge. AI may open us to limitless knowledge but, it is not really a new tree of knowledge of good and evil . AI like us humans grow in its knowledge with the passage of time. Already, a Canadian company has produced a Magisterium AI, which is an smart App that is trained on over 400 Church documents which includes papal encyclicals, catechism of the catholic church, cannon law and general instruction on the missal. It thus, responds to questions posed by the faithful about various topics and gives them the view of the Church . Chat-GPT models are prone to hallucinate and commit mistakes. Hence, AI will be an important tool for pastoral ministry but will not replace human priesthood.

The future of priestly ministry is challenging but it is hopeful. We have the challenge to work with humans, creation and AI. Principle of synodality is opening our embrace to AI with critical caution. This embrace is a prophetic embrace and not blind techno-admiration. Hence, the coming future we may created priest-centred AI that will certainly assist the pastor in the pastoral care of the  faithful.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao