Republican frontrunner John McCain is facing mounting pressure to rescind his embrace of an endorsement from controversial Texas pastor John Hagee. Hagee, as Catholic League president and conservative darling Bill Donohue charged yesterday, "has waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church," having calling it "the Great Whore" and other unflattering epithets. Yesterday, Catholics United called on the good senator to take a principled position and distance himself from Hagee's statements.
Pastor John Hagee has a long history of criticizing the Catholic Church. In his book, Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee has a chapter entitled "Centuries of Mistreatment" where he makes derisive claims against the Catholic Church. In one alarming and unsubstantiated passage, Hagee suggests that Hitler's attendance at a Catholic grade school produced Hitler's anti-Semitic world view. This rhetoric is part of a pattern of behavior employed by Pastor Hagee to discredit the Catholic faith.
Despite McCain's support from Hagee, Catholics have been a prominent focus of the McCain campaign. This past December, his campaign launched an initiative called Catholics for McCain with a host of prominent Catholic leaders. In a press release dated December 27th, the campaign stated that "Catholics for McCain will play an active role in educating and communicating with fellow Catholics about why John McCain is the best candidate to successfully promote Catholic values in the upcoming election."
The campaign's response? No comment.
That Sen. McCain is once again drawing fire from conservatives like Donohue should be cause enough for alarm within his campaign. That he's now seen as an ally of someone who has insulted the faith tradition of 1 in 4 U.S. voters should only heighten this concern.
The so-far absence of mea culpa from the McCain camp is astounding. Of equal concern is Donohue's relatively soft response to McCain's silence on the issue -- at least compared to the usual way he handles such matters. Donohue, as many may remember, opened the floodgates on John Edwards last year over the candidate's hiring of bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan. When Edwards balked, Donohue called for "a nationwide public relations blitz that will be conducted on the pages of the New York Times, as well as in Catholic newspapers and periodicals." But so far, Bill has let the likely GOP nominee off easy. Now Catholics, he says, should only "take note."
UPDATE: Sen. McCain has issued a head-scratching response to the growing controversy over the Hagee endorsement. According to a statement the candidate released Friday.
"Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in 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.
"I am hopeful that Catholics, Protestants and all people of faith who share my vision for the future of America will respond to our message of defending innocent life, traditional marriage, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our society."
In other words, the "Great Whore" stuff isn't really a big deal; let's move on.
Of course Hagee's endorsement doesn't mean he and McCain agree on everything. But there's a big difference between divergence over something like, say, health care policy, and a disagreement over Hagee's apparent bigotry and intolerance -- none of which, by the way, McCain has specifically distanced himself from. (If you're still not sold on Hagee's dubious credentials see Friday's release from the DNC).
And let's not forget that McCain didn't just accept this endorsement, he actively sought it. In fact, the pair even held a joint press conference to celebrate.
McCain can equivocate all he wants; the fact remains that until he rejects this endorsement, it's going to continue to be a thorn in his side.