Catholics, others denounce McCain for courting Hagee
Associated Baptist Press
By Robert Marus
March 4, 2008

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Arizona Sen. John McCain may have imperiled his chances with one important religious constituency by appealing to another.

Democratic leaders and conservative Catholic groups alike have criticized the Republican presidential candidate for courting an endorsement from Texas evangelist John Hagee. The San Antonio-based pastor and media mogul backed McCain at a Feb. 27 news conference where the senator appeared.

Hagee has been harshly critical of the Roman Catholic Church in the past, referring to it as "the great whore," a "false cult system" and "the apostate church."

Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, said McCain should follow the example of his Democratic counterpart, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and denounce and repudiate the endorsement of a "bigot" like Hagee. Obama has denounced an unsolicited endorsement of his presidential campaign offered by Nation of Islam founder Louis Farrakhan.

McCain's campaign offered a statement Feb. 29 seeking to distance the senator from Hagee's views on Catholicism.

"[I]n no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee's views, which I obviously do not," McCain said.

Donohue responded March 4 by saying it was a step in the right direction, but he wished McCain would be more specific in denouncing Hagee's views.

"McCain's latest response is helpful, if disappointing," Donohue said in a press release. "I expected more from the self-described 'Straight Talk' presidential candidate. Why couldn't he have spoken specifically to the Catholic-bashing record of John Hagee?"

Donohue contrasted McCain's response to then-candidate George W. Bush's response to similar criticism in 2000, following a speech he gave at Bob Jones University. In a letter to New York Cardinal John O'Connor, Bush categorically rejected "the anti-Catholic and racially divisive views associated with" the conservative evangelical school in South Carolina. The then-Texas governor added, "Such opinions are personally offensive to me, and I want to erase any doubt about my views and values."

For Hagee's part, in a March 3 statement released to the Christian Broadcasting Network, he claimed he is not anti-Catholic. "I have always had great love for Catholic people and great respect for the Catholic Church. I am shocked and saddened to learn of the mischaracterization of my views on Catholics," the statement said.

However, Hagee's statement did not specify how he believed the news stories and criticisms of McCain had "mischaracterized" his past comments about Catholicism.

Crucial primaries are being held in Texas, Ohio and two other states March 4. While McCain has the GOP nomination virtually locked up, he has long had an uneasy relationship with conservative evangelical leaders such as Hagee. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, has stayed in the race, often polling far better among evangelical Republican voters in previous primaries and caucuses than McCain.

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