THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at an interesting meeting in Rome between the Pope and the U.S. Speaker of the House, who happens to be a devout Catholic.

Pope Benedict XVI made clear to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday that she cannot advocate for abortion rights and still be a good Catholic.

After meeting with Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the Vatican, the pontiff stressed that Catholic politicians are required to work to outlaw abortion, and stressed that church teachings are “consistent” on the matter.

Both seem aimed directly at Pelosi’s public positions. Though she considers herself an “ardent” Catholic, she is also a vocal supporter of abortion rights. She tangled with church officials last year about whether church teachings on abortion have been consistent.

After their meeting the Vatican issued a statement that read:

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.”

Pelosi, soon after, issued her own statement, praising the Vatican’s “leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming.” The Pope’s public statement neglected to mention any of these issues.

The issue of whether political leaders can separate their church’s mandates from their official responsibilities isn’t exactly new, and the Speaker has received “direction” from church leaders before. Pelosi, however, shows no signs of yielding to pressure — and continues to receive communion.

For his part, Pope Benedict has expressed support for excommunicating elected officials who support abortion rights, though his spokesman later said he has no plans to formally punish anyone in specific.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Frank Page, a very conservative pastor and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, would ordinarily keep his distance from President Obama. But this week, the White House invited Page to be on an advisory council for the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and he accepted.

“I was assured by [Joshua] DuBois that this was bipartisan and that they wanted people of varying viewpoints and needed involvement of people of various political and theological differences,” Page said. “And so I prayed about it, talked to some friends about it and felt led to be a part.” He added that he’s taking heat for working with Obama’s team from some of his allies.

* And finally, Fred Phelps, best known for picketing the funerals of fallen U.S. troops and generally recognized as the most loathsome man in America, tried to enter the United Kingdom this week to protest a play about the death of Matthew Shepard. A U.K. Border Agency said Phelps and his daughter “have engaged in unacceptable behavior by inciting hatred against a number of communities,” and were prohibited from entering the country.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.