THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a major faith-based player congressional Republicans hoped would be an ally in the fight against health care reform, but which will not join the GOP crusade.

The U.S. Catholic bishops will not join efforts to repeal the new health care law, even though they staunchly opposed the bill last year after concluding it permits federally funded abortions.

Instead of pushing repeal, the bishops said Tuesday (Jan. 18) they will devote their energy “to correcting serious moral problems in the current law,” according to a letter sent to Capitol Hill from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Bishop Stephen Blaire, and Archbishop Jose Gomez, who all chair political committees at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, echoed that message in a separate letter to all 535 members of Congress outlining the bishops’ top political priorities.

Last year, the Catholic Health Association endorsed the Affordable Care Act, while the USCCB did not, and some Republicans had hoped that the bishops would side with them in the GOP’s attempt to gut the new health care system. We now know that won’t happen.

Indeed, by some accounts, the bishops’ efforts to change the law will include some steps to make it more liberal, not less. The USCCB this week emphasized three main goals: (1) guaranteed access for all; (2) no funding for abortion; and (3) remove barriers restricting care for immigrants. Republican plans would obvious fail, in a rather spectacular way, the first and third tenets, making an alliance that much less likely.

In the meantime, Pope Benedict XVI continues to offer unequivocal support for universal health care. The GOP therefore probably considers him a wacky European socialist, better left ignored.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Every January, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson tells his followers what to expect over the next calendar year, after claiming to receive divine messages from above. In 2011, Robertson said things will go poorly for the United States — but well for Pat Robertson.

* Remember the Ohio creationist who taught middle school science and used a Tesla coil to burn a cross into the arm of a student? He’s been fired. (thanks to reader D.J. for the tip)

* And the Roman Catholic Church’s scandal involving the widespread sexual abuse of children continues to get worse: “A newly disclosed document reveals that Vatican officials told the bishops of Ireland in 1997 that they had serious reservations about the bishops’ policy of mandatory reporting of priests suspected of child abuse to the police or civil authorities. The document appears to contradict Vatican claims that church leaders in Rome never sought to control the actions of local bishops in abuse cases, and that the Roman Catholic Church did not impede criminal investigations of child abuse suspects.”

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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.