This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a dreadful development in the international scandal involving the Roman Catholic Church and the widespread sexual abuse of children.

The latest sex-abuse case to rock the Catholic Church is unfolding in the archdiocese of an influential Italian Cardinal who has been working with Pope Benedict XVI on reforms to respond to prior scandals of pedophile priests.

Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-year-old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-year-old boys but younger. Fourteen-year-olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues,” he allegedly said.

Genoa Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who is the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, had been working with Benedict to establish a tough new worldwide policy, released this week, on how bishops should handle accusations of priestly sex abuse.

Seppia reportedly boasted about shopping malls being the preferred location to entice minors, and investigators allege that he frequently traded cocaine for sex.

One retired priest has come forward to say he warned church officials about Seppia in 1994, but “was ignored.”

Seppia is a parish priest in Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco’s archdiocese, and Bagnasco has served as an adviser to the pope on matters of priestly sexual abuse. [* correction noted below]

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs asked a Christian pastor to deliver an ecumenical Memorial Day prayer at Houston National Cemetery, but that’s not going to happen. Because the event is sponsored by a private group, the Rev. Scott Rainey sued to be able to say “Jesus Christ” in his remarks, and a federal judge ruled in his favor this week.

* Rep. Dan Webster (R-Fla.) told a televangelist in his district this week that he supports foreign aid for theological reasons. As the congressman sees it, some foreign aid goes to Israel, which means “God’s hand” will be “on this country.”

* What a strange man: “Controversial preacher Bradlee Dean’s morning prayer on the Minnesota House floor Friday has garnered him so much attention he’s now asking supporters for money to hire a publicist.”

* And remember Harold Camping, the guy who said the world would end last weekend? He argued this week that May 21 had been “an invisible judgment day,” and that the real doomsday will happen in late October. When that doesn’t happen, he’ll likely come up with yet another date; it’s just how this game is played.

* Correction: I’d originally reported that the pope’s adviser had been charged, not a priest in his archdiocese. The text has been corrected throughout.