THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a bizarre attempt to spin the Roman Catholic Church’s international scandal surrounding the sexual abuse of children, and the church’s systematic efforts to cover up the crimes and protect the criminals.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, led by lay activist Bill Donohue, took out a full page ad in the New York Times this week, not only defending the church, but downplaying the severity of the scandal itself. As Donohue argued, thousands of children around the world were molested by priests, but not raped. What’s more, most of the victims were post pubescent, so we’re talking about the sexual abuse of children, but “the abuse did not meet the clinical definition of pedophilia.”

Donohue concludes, “In other words, the issue is homosexuality, not pedophilia.”

In the letter, Donohue says the claims of abuse that are surfacing today “are almost all old cases [italics his].” He cites a “landmark study” conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004 (a study that was funded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) to argue that “most of the abuse occurred during the heyday of the sexual revolution, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s.”

“Why are priests being singled out when the sexual abuse of minors among other segments of the population is on-going today?” Donohue writes.

Toward the end of his letter, Donohue takes a thinly veiled shot at liberals.

“What accounts for the relentless attacks on the Church?” he writes. “Let’s face it: if its teachings were pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and pro-women clergy, the dogs would have been called off years ago.”

It takes a shocking amount of chutzpah to defend a religious institution engaged in a scandal of this magnitude by blasting gays and liberals, but here we are.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the Freedom From Religion Foundation lacked the legal standing to challenge the National Day of Prayer.

* Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli (R) “has issued an opinion that it is OK to pack heat in the pews or choir as long as the owner has a good reason, namely ‘personal protection.’” (thanks to B.S. for the tip)

* France this week “formally banned the wearing of full veils in public places, becoming the first country in Europe to impose restrictions on a form of attire that some Muslims consider a religious obligation.”

* English philosopher A. C. Grayling spent 30 years compiling this: “At first, ‘The Good Book: A Humanist Bible’ looks like the Bible that Christians believe in, politicians take oaths on and the Gideons put in hotel rooms. It is divided into books like Genesis, Lamentations and Proverbs. Each book is organized into chapters and verses. It is written in the stately cadences that signal the presence of important, godly matters. Begin to read, however, and you immediately see that God is not present.”

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.