THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a rough week for the Vatican, which pushed back against recent criticism in an unproductive way. Amy Sullivan had this report the other day:

Does anyone at the Vatican talk to each other? Or are these guys just really really awful at public relations? Earlier this week, the Holy See’s ambassador to the United Nations delivered a defiant statement in response to allegations that Vatican officials haven’t done enough to deal with sex abuse within the church. The statement itself wasn’t exactly a model of how to win supporters and influence public opinion. Anytime you have to resort to everybody-does-it and why-don’t-you-pick-on-the-Presbyterians-instead? arguments, you’ve lost the moral high ground.

Was it really that bad? Actually, yes. The Vatican’s “defense” against abuse-related scandals this week came from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N., who said “available research” found that only about 5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse. The one-in-20 argument isn’t likely to win over critics. Tomasi then pointed to instances of U.S. houses of worship with sexual-abuse scandals in Protestant and Jewish communities.

As Kevin Drum noted, “Admittedly, I’m not a theological expert, but to my ears this sounds only slightly more sophisticated than something you might hear from a red-faced five-year-old. Augustine must be spinning in his grave.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, condemned health care reform in usually disgusting language this week. “What they are attempting to do in healthcare, particularly in treating the elderly, is not something like what the Nazis did. It is precisely what the Nazis did,” Land said. Reports were unclear as to whether Land has suffered any kind of head trauma recently that leads him to say insane things.

* It’s that time of year again at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle: “Washington’s annual Red Mass, which celebrates the legal profession, will be held this year on Sunday, October 4 — the day before the Supreme Court begins its new term. Several justices traditionally attend, along with congressional leaders, diplomats, cabinet secretaries and other dignitaries…. It is a Catholic service, but power brokers of other faiths are asked to attend the invitation-only event. Justice Stephen Breyer, who is Jewish, is a regular.” My friend, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, explained to CNN, “The truth is, this was set up as a way to basically lecture and give information to the justices. There is no other institution that has this special way to talk to the justices on the Supreme Court.”

* And in related news, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in Buono v. Salazar, the year’s big church-state case. The controversy surrounds a 6 1/2 -foot white cross, built to honor the war dead of World War I, given special congressional status on federal land. Lower courts found the display unconstitutional, but given the high court’s makeup, civil libertarians are concerned about the possible ruling and implications.

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.