Pastoral Automation

Bob and Steve, here. We’ve been thinking of the current Parish struggles brought on by the shortage of religious vocations. Labor imbalances are nothing new in this country. Sometimes labor shortages occur from too much demand and too few skilled workers. Sometimes labor surpluses are brought about by minimum wage hikes that lead employers to seek ways to reduce costs. Whatever the source, when workers become scarce or too expensive, organizations look for ways to drive costs back down through automation and innovation. Does anyone remember a bowling alley with human pinsetters? Does anybody want to give up the 24/7 ubiquity of the ATM? Automation can free up labor resources to perform new activities.

In our case the labor shortage is a shortage of priests. As engineers, we asked ourselves, “What solutions have been left untapped?” People always seek “pastoral”, “well-considered”, “achievable” solutions. This is where we stand out by bringing a contrarian approach. Read on to see our vision of the priest shortage future.

Let’s take a look at the sacrament of reconciliation. IBM’s Watson technology can be brought to bear to greatly simplify this process. Picture this:

Penitent: “Bless me Watson for I have sinned. It’s been 3 months since my last confession.”

Watson: “No, it has been 198 days, 3 hours, 14 minutes and 16 seconds.”

Penitent: “I confess cheating on my spouse.”

Watson: “That will be 12,483 Hail Mary’s and 986.3 Our Fathers.”

You don’t want to mess with Watson– he’s a scary pairing of government databases, surveillance cameras and social media postings that would make George Orwell proud. If you forget to confess a sin, he can start drawing your transgressions in the sand.1

On the way out, the priest offers the absolution to confer grace. Think of the increased throughput! Like going to the doctor, the PA does most of the work and then the doctor comes and checks in on you.

Marriage becomes a similarly efficient affair. You gather the wedding party and guests. Since the husband and wife-to-be are the actual officiators of the sacrament, they get the ceremony started. At the right time they Skype a priest.

“Thank you for your call. We are currently experiencing high call volumes. Please wait for the next available priest. Your wait time is an estimated 98 minutes. For faster service press 2 to provide your credit card information to sponsor a seminarian.”

One of the greatest pastoral services of our priests are visiting the sick. This requires a multitude of technologies and efficiencies. First, hospitals are very spread out – a priest can easily walk the equivalent of a couple of miles to visit and bless everyone. The first tier of technology you should envision is a priest on a Segway Personal Transporter2 equipped with a Holy Water-filled super soaker. Let’s just let our vision of “The Holy Roller” (also known as “Spray and Pray”) soak in for a while before we move on to the startling concepts of the 2nd and 3rd tiers of innovation. We don’t want to send you, dear reader, into a state of future shock.

Nothing saps a Pastor’s time like running the day-to-day operations of the Parish. The future is here with the pairing of robotics and artificial intelligence. We offer you The Pastorbot! A humanoid robot with an exoskeleton that is creepily reminiscent of your pastor. Pastorbot thinks nothing of spending 30 minutes after Masses schmoozing the flock. Furthermore, the Pastorbot gives real-life answers through advanced neural-network based artificial intelligence. Actually, it turns out that artificial intelligence is really expensive and even less intelligent than what passes for old-fashioned intelligence. We have a better approach. The Pastorbot is programmed to give a highly optimized answer to every question. In fact, it turns out that the most optimized answer is actually the same for all questions. Consider the following hypothetical scenarios:

Head of Finance Committee: “Father, we need a sustainable funding source. The Committee recommends turning the narthex into a casino.”

Pastorbot: “That sounds reasonable. We’ll run it by the Parish Council.”

Concerned Parishioner: “I think my elderly mother is on her way out and she’d like it if you’d celebrate daily Mass at her bedside.”

Pastorbot: “That sounds reasonable. We’ll run it by the Parish Council.”

We’re pretty sure the robot folks can make Pastorbot’s voice sound just like HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

This brings us to the Parish Council. Let’s be honest – it’s way too time consuming and doesn’t accomplish anything (which is part of the brilliance of the optimized Pastorbot response). Our efficiency plan hinges on dissolving the Council. Don’t get us wrong, there will still be a “parish council” but it won’t be compromised of actual, you know, “people”. We’re very confident the same results can be achieved by employing a Magic Eight Ball. The Pastorbot compiles the list of weekly proposals, requests and considerations. Then you Pastor brings these things to the magic eight ball and gets down to making decisions. And just like that – poof! – next week’s bulletin includes the notification that the narthex will soon be turned into a casino.

The same minds that bring us the Pastorbot also market the Eulogizer 2000. After responding to a short survey (hobbies, next of kin, etc) the Eulogizer 2000 spits out a custom eulogy, ready-to-go and with an 89-to-13 probability of bringing tears to the eyes of loved ones. If parish demographics predict an uptick in funerals, you definitely want to give serious thought to this feature-packed option.

There are 17,651 local Catholic parishes and approximately 37,000 priests in the United States. We’re going out on a limb here: There are at least 17,651 unique homilies based on the same set of readings. We call that a massive duplication of effort. Wouldn’t it be better to pool resources and have 500-1000 gifted homolists target all languages, ethnic groups, and regional issues? We propose the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) host a YouTube type of homily service. Best of all, this service (The Homily Homogenizer™) can be paired with the ever-popular Sermoney™ expansion pack to deliver high-return donation appeals.

If you don’t share our enthusiasm for this brave new vision of the Church, but rather find it more disturbing and shocking, get to your knees and pray for our priests and religious vocations! Do your part to encourage and support religious vocations. Otherwise, prepare yourself to someday be Homilized by your Pastorbot.

3Past performance does not guarantee future results. If use of the Eulogizer 2000 results in itching, blistering, intestinal discomfort or swelling of the brain, consult with your physician.

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