THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a major kerfuffle that broke out after Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas, who converted to Roman Catholicism while serving in Congress, questioned the religious commitment of prominent Catholic Democrats.

It started with a fundraising letter on the Freedom of Choice Act, printed on an official-looking letterhead that reads “United States Senator Sam Brownback (Republican-Kansas),” and featuring Brownback’s signature.

“Real Catholics need a new voice — not the likes of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi who have campaigned as Catholics while voting to undermine the values we hold most dear,” Brownback wrote in a letter on behalf of Catholic Advocate, a project of the conservative Washington-based Morley Institute for Church and Culture.

“The same can be said for the five ‘Catholic’ senators sponsoring the Freedom of Choice Act, namely John Kerry (D-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA)… You can’t be both Catholic and Pro-Abortion!” [scare quotes and emphasis in the original]

For a prominent Catholic lawmaker to question his Catholic colleagues’ faith, in writing, was understandably seen as both insulting and offensive. “This is an astonishing breach of the basic norms of civility long honored in the United States Senate,” said Stephen Schneck, professor of political science and director of The Catholic University of America’s Life Cycle Institute. “Regardless that FOCA is horrible and — for me — immoral legislation, an affront like this between senators is unfathomable.”

Initially, Brownback’s spokesperson claimed that the senator’s office “had never seen, heard of, or approved” the letter. Then Brownback’s office changed its story, saying that the letter had been approved by an unnamed, since-departed campaign aide. Then the story took another turn when the group that sent out the letter said the screed had been “sanctioned by Brownback.”

The heat on Brownback is increasing, and I doubt we’ve heard the last of it.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Vatican’s decision to elevate Timothy Dolan as New York’s new Archbishop may have a much broader significance.

* The White House really shouldn’t be in the business of “vetting” prayers before presidential events.

* It’s not too late to book your trip on the Creation Studies Institute’s “Ice Age Fossil Adventure.”

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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.