First up from the God Machine this week is an update on an important story about criminal charges pending against Roman Catholic Church leaders in Missouri.

About a month ago, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City was indicted for failing to report a suspected child abuser who worked for him. The Roman Catholic Church’s global scandal involving the sexual abuse of children has been ongoing for 25 years, but Finn was the first to face charges for a priest he’d supervised.

Three years ago, after the Diocese of Kansas City was caught up in a series of other sexual-abuse scandals, Finn promised to alert the authorities to church officials suspected of harming children. The allegations suggest Finn ignored that promise, looked the other way when the Rev. Shawn Ratigan targeted young girls, and even allowed him to attended children’s parties and preside at a girl’s First Communion.

This week, the charges against Finn were dropped after he struck a deal with prosecutors. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

In a deal to avoid a second round of criminal charges, a Roman Catholic bishop in Kansas City has agreed to meet monthly with a county prosecutor to detail every suspicious episode involving abuse of a child in his diocese for the next five years. […]

The agreement announced on Tuesday between Bishop Finn and the prosecuting attorney of neighboring Clay County, Daniel White, leaves the bishop open to prosecution for misdemeanor charges for five years, if he does not continue to meet with the prosecutor and report all episodes.

In effect, Kansas City’s bishop will have to report to a parole officer of sorts. Finn will have to report, literally every month, on the suspect activities of local priests who may be targeting children.

Advocates for the church’s victims believe the deal is too lenient, and hoped a criminal trial would help get the truth out and deter future cover-ups.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* The Crystal Cathedral in Southern California will be sold by the Schuller family to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million.

* Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum doesn’t believe President Obama is a secret Muslim, but he won’t correct voters who do.

* On a related note, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson argues this week that President Obama has a Muslim “inclination.”

* And an Iowa religious right group called The FAMiLY Leader will co-host a forum today for Republican presidential candidates at a fundamentalist Christian congregation in Des Moines. All of the candidates will attend — except Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both of whom are Mormons.

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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.