THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is the escalating sex scandal involving the pope and the Vatican, which seems to grow increasingly more serious with each passing day.

The future Pope Benedict XVI was kept more closely apprised of a sexual abuse case in Germany than previous church statements have suggested, raising fresh questions about his handling of a scandal unfolding under his direct supervision before he rose to the top of the church’s hierarchy.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and archbishop in Munich at the time, was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.

An initial statement on the matter issued earlier this month by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising placed full responsibility for the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties on Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the Rev. Gerhard Gruber. But the memo, whose existence was confirmed by two church officials, shows that the future pope not only led a meeting on Jan. 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest, but was also kept informed about the priest’s reassignment.

These revelations coincide with new details about another Vatican sex scandal.

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

This is likely to get worse for the pope and the Vatican before it gets better — if it ever gets better.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* In Gainesville, Fla., a local mayoral candidate is gay, prompting a church called the Dove World Outreach Center to erect a sign on its property reading, “No Homo Mayor.” In addition to rather clumsy bigotry, tax law prohibits tax-exempt houses of worship from announcing their support or opposition to candidates for public office. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has brought the matter to the attention of the IRS.

* Stephen Colbert recently had Mary Matalin on, and Colbert pressed the Republican operative on why she wears a cross. “You know Jesus preached social justice,” Colbert noted. “Makes you look like a commie.” Matalin replied that Jesus “also preached, ‘Teach ’em how to fish.’ Not give ’em a fish, right? You don’t work you don’t eat.” It prompted Colbert to explain, “He said ‘I will make you fishers of men.’ I don’t think Jesus said ‘if you don’t work you don’t eat.’ I think that was Cool Hand Luke.”

* Democratic House members walked out of a bipartisan prayer breakfast Thursday morning, after Republicans invited Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) to speak. Given that Neugebauer had just shouted “baby killer” during the House debate on health care, Dems were disgusted. In a letter to Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), Dem representatives wrote, “Your last minute invitation to Rep. Randy Neugebauer to address our group at this morning’s breakfast was not only irresponsible, but politically tone-deaf.”

* And a right-wing political magazine, Newsmax, is apparently getting a little impatient about the second coming. It’s latest cover story features a picture of Jesus with a headline that reads: “The Jesus Question: Will He Ever Return?”

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.