This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a controversial letter from the leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who appears to have weighed in unnecessarily in a partisan political fight.

You’ll recall that last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) came under fire from some Roman Catholic leaders for his party’s right-wing agenda. Specifically, several dozen professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges said the GOP budget plan was inconsistent with Catholic moral teachings because it seeks to punish the poor and vulnerable.

Noting, in particular, Republican plans for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, Boehner was told his policies were “anti-life.”

This week, as luck would have it, Boehner and his leadership team received some Catholic cover.

Boehner and Ryan, both of whom are practicing Catholics, released a letter from Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after the Speaker had faced criticism from some prominent Catholic scholars for the Republican budget.

Dolan responded to a letter sent April 29 by Ryan by thanking the chairman of the House Budget committee for his “continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current delicate budget considerations in Congress.”

“It is clear that all of this correspondence reflects recognition of the foundational principles at work,” Dolan wrote.

GOP leaders and their allies are, not surprisingly, waving the letter around quite a bit. But the nuances matter here — the Dolan letter notably did not endorse the House Republican budget plan. It didn’t even praise it. The archbishop also said he appreciates the GOP “assurances” about taking the vulnerable into consideration, but that the church’s pastors will expect meaningful follow-through

That said, I still consider Dolan’s letter a terrible mistake, especially since he had to know how it would be used for political purposes. He didn’t offer support for the budget plan, but Dolan did praise Republicans’ attentiveness to Christian values, which seems ridiculous under the circumstances.

As Jonathan Cohn explained, “The projected impact of the Republican budget is not ambiguous or subject of serious intellectual controversy: The poor will take a substantial hit at the same time the rich get substantial tax breaks. The president of an organization as dedicated to social justice as the Bishops claim to be should oppose the Republican budget, loudly and without hesitation. He should not be praising the budget’s architect, no matter what that architect said about Catholic values.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Hate crimes targeting American mosques in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s demise appear to be increasing.

* The latest investigation into the Roman Catholic Church’s international scandal involving the widespread sexual abuse of children appears to blame hippies for the crimes.

* A creationist theme park in Kentucky continues to enjoy state tax breaks. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* A crazed preacher wearing a track suit was invited to deliver a morning prayer on the floor of the Minnesota state House this week, and he proceeded to attack President Obama.

* And as you may have heard, some religious folks seem to believe the world will come to an end today. I’m guessing they’re mistaken.