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This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Pope Francis, who continues to shake up the Roman Catholic Church in ways that were hard to even imagine up

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at Pope Francis, who continues to shake up the Roman Catholic Church in ways that were hard to even imagine up until very recently.

To be sure, the still relatively new pope -- Francis' papacy only began six months ago -- has been challenging a variety of church traditions since being elevated. He made international headlines suggesting atheists can reach heaven through good deeds, when he washed the feet of a Serbian Muslim, and when he proclaimed, "If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?"

But this week, Francis went even further.

Pope Francis said in an interview published Thursday that the Catholic Church cannot focus only on abortion, contraception and gay marriage, and that the moral structure of the church will "fall like a house of cards" if it does not find better balance.The pope acknowledged in the interview that he has been criticized for not speaking more about those three issues, but he said that the church must "talk about them in a context."While the teaching of the church on those subjects was clear, he said, "It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

It's worth emphasizing the pope hasn't articulated a shift in position on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and birth control. Rather, Francis is talking about tone -- he's making the case that it hurts the church when these social issues come to define the faith's message. He warned of a ministry needlessly "obsessed" with the culture war, urging the church to find "a new balance."

In the same interview, the pope added, "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."

As several joked this week, Pope Francis would clearly be vulnerable to a Tea Party primary challenger, outraged by his break with conservative orthodoxy, if only the Vatican worked this way.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Pastor Kevin Swanson, a Colorado minister with a reputation for extremism, thinks he can explain the flooding that devastated parts of his state this week: a photograph of State House Majority Leader Mark Ferrandino (D) kissing his partner published in the Denver Post: "Swanson said that it is not a coincidence that the state experienced deadly floods at the same time Colorado 'legislators committed homosexual acts on the front page of the Denver Post' and made sure to 'kill as many babies as possible' and 'encourage as much decadent homosexual activity as possible.' He even mentioned the new liberal marijuana law as a reason that the state is witnessing 'the worst year ever in terms of flood and fire damage in Colorado's history.'"

* And in an unexpected move, TV preacher Pat Robertson told his viewers this week that faith healing is "like Santa Claus." A regular part of Robertson's broadcast is a segment in which he talks about ailments being healed through the television.