This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is the devastating scandal surrounding the Vatican and the pope, which is causing ongoing humiliation for the Roman Catholic Church on a global scale. Managing to literally add insult to injury, the Vatican’s preacher of the Pontifical Household compared criticism of the church and Pope Benedict XVI to persecution and “collective violence” against Jews.

In a Good Friday sermon in St. Peter’s Basilica attended by the pope, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa said a Jewish friend had written to him, saying the recent accusations about the Church reminded him of the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

Jews know “from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence,” the priest said, and “because of this, they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.”

The remarks offended Jews, victims of the church’s sexual abuse, and pretty much all sensible people everywhere. The Vatican quickly distanced itself from Cantalamessa’s Good Friday homily, and said he was speaking only for himself.

In the larger context, however, the insult “came amid revelations of alleged abuse of children by priests across Europe and in the United States, and the accusation that Benedict, before he became pope, did not do enough to take action against suspect priests.”

There seems to be a growing effort to characterize the church as some kind of victim in this story, despite its role in covering up the sexual abuse of children. This week, for example, the Vatican lashed out at the New York Times for shining a light on the international scandal. Church officials could not, however, point to specific examples of the newspaper getting its facts wrong.

The Vatican, as part of its unpersuasive defense, also insisted this week that the pope cannot be compelled to answer questions about the church’s child-molestation cover-up because, as church attorneys said, the pope is a “head of state,” and therefore has immunity.

And in case you’re wondering, there is no mechanism in place that could allow for papal impeachment.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* More twists and turns in the C Street scandal: “A group of Ohio ministers and an ethics watchdog group here have separately asked federal investigators to examine whether four House members and four Senators received what amounts to illegal gifts for paying $950 a month, including housekeeping, to stay at the C Street house.”

* There was a flap this week about Davenport, Iowa, dropping Good Friday from its municipal calendar, but it was much ado about nothing.

* President Obama receives daily prayer devotionals delivered directly to his Blackberry.

* And speaking of the president, Obama extended holiday wishes in his weekly address this morning: “[W]hile we worship in different ways, we also remember the shared spirit of humanity that inhabits us all – Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, believers and nonbelievers alike.”