THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is the latest developments in the Roman Catholic Church’s international scandal involving the sexual abuse of children. On Tuesday, the pope shifted gears, at least rhetorically, and offered his most direct remarks on the matter to date.

In his most direct condemnation of the sexual abuse crisis that has swept the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday said that the “sins inside the church” posed the greatest threat to the church, adding that “forgiveness does not substitute for justice.”

“Attacks on the pope and the church come not only from outside the church, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sin that exists inside the church,” Benedict told reporters aboard his plane en route to Portugal, speaking about the abuse crisis.

“This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside but is born from the sin in the church,” he added. “The church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice.”

In placing the blame for sex abuse directly on the church, Benedict appeared to distance himself from other church officials who in recent weeks have criticized the news media for reporting on the sex abuse crisis, which they called attacks on the church.

The pope’s comments were unscripted. While the notion that “forgiveness does not substitute for justice” struck many as an encouraging concession, he did not elaborate on what kind of justice the Vatican has in mind for those involved with the scandal.

That said, reader D.J. reminds me that the pope did accept the resignation this week of a German bishop who is under investigation for sexual abuse and financial misconduct.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Supreme Court recently ruled on the constitutionality of a seven-foot-tall Latin cross in the middle of both the Mojave Desert. This week, the cross went missing.

* To the delight of civil libertarians, Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee this week that the administration does not support publicly-funded employment discrimination as part of “faith-based” grants. The position represents the key distinction between the Obama administration’s approach and that of the Bush administration.

* Ergun Caner has been an effective and charismatic president of Liberty University’s theological seminary, founded by Jerry Falwell, the deceased radical televangelist. Part of Caner’s success is a result of his personal backstory — he claims to have been born in Turkey to a devout Sunni Muslim family, which made him a “jihadist.” Evidence emerged recently that suggests Caner’s story is an elaborate lie.

* The National Evangelical Association is taking a more aggressive role in rallying support for comprehensive immigration reform.

* And though many had assumed he’d just go away, Ted Haggard formally incorporated a new church in Colorado Springs this week. Haggard, of course, was a high-profile mega-church leader who admitted to soliciting oral sex and buying crystal meth from a male prostitute in 2006.

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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.