Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most prominent Catholic serving in the U.S. government, called on Sen. John McCain to reject the endorsement of Texas televangelist John Hagee, who has labeled the Catholic church "the great whore," a "false cult system," and linked it to Hitler's Nazi movement.
"That behavior is outside the circle of civilized debate in our democracy," Pelosi said during a Thursday conference call. "I certainly think John McCain should reject his endorsement and I'm sure it won't be long before he does."
McCain has come under heavy fire from Catholic groups across the political spectrum for appearing with Hagee last week and declaring he was "proud" of the endorsement. Subsequently, McCain told reporters that Hagee's backing "does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for and believes," but added, "I am very proud of the Pastor John Hagee's spiritual leadership to thousands of people." [See video of Hagee speaking about Catholicism here.]
But several Catholic groups insist that McCain should specifically condemn Hagee's "hate speech" about Catholicism. Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, charged in a statement that McCain "has shown horrendous judgment in buddying up to this bigot and spin doctor." The progressive group Catholics United yesterday circulated remarks from McCain in 2000 condemning the "strong anti-Catholic statements" of Bob Jones.
Catholics were a key voting bloc for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, supporting him over Democratic rivals Al Gore and fellow Catholic John Kerry.
On Thursday, Pelosi also used President Bush's White House ceremony with McCain to tee off on the GOP nominee. Bush's endorsement "was appropriate," she said, "because [McCain] has endorsed whatever George Bush has wanted, whether it's his failed economic policies, or his failed policy in Iraq."
She pressed Democrats to publicly highlight the sharp contrasts between McCain and his two Democratic rivals. "Even on subjects that he's good on, like global warming and the rest -- he was good on immigration and he did a one-eighty on that," she said. "I think it's fair to say he cannot be counted on, even on some of his priority issues like immigration."
Pelosi added that she viewed the prolonged Democratic primary as a positive development. "While I hope that our candidate will be chosen soon," she remarked, "I know also that the vitality of our debate will be healthy for us as we choose a nominee."