The case is closed on John Hagee, the Texas evangelist whose endorsement of John McCain set off a national controversy because of allegations that Hagee’s books and sermons contain anti-Catholic rhetoric. Or at least it’s closed according to Bill Donohue. The president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Donohue led the campaign for McCain to distance himself from Hagee after the endorsement. After receiving a letter of apology and clarification from Hagee, Donohue today said the controversy is officially over. God-o-Meter caught up with Donohue by phone shortly after he made the announcement.
In your statement today, you said that Hagee’s apology was born of weeks of meetings with Catholic leaders. Do you have a window into what that process was like?
It’s been going on for weeks. A lot of Catholic activist friends of mine and some evangelicals have been powwowing with [Hagee] in Washington. They asked me to meet with Hagee and I said no several times. I’m not interested in meeting with him until I get what I want, a public statement and apology that’s complete and speaks specifically to these black legends about Catholics-Jewish relations, and the Holocaust in particular. And once that’s accomplished, I’ll be glad to meet with him. Now that’s going to happen on Thursday.
Quite frankly, I didn’t think that I would get something this complete. What I did not want to get was this “If you’ve been offended, I’m sorry.” I wanted something more specific. There’s no substitute for personal interaction, when you have people sitting down with you and explaining how you’ve been hurtful. Now we can bury this hatchet. It’s rather dramatic….
What really got me offended was the idea of “I’m the purist Christian on the block” when he’s talking to Jews—“I’m not out there persecuting the Jews like all these Catholics.” I’m sure we’ve seen the last of that.
Is Hagee acknowledging that he said anti-Catholic things, or only that he was insensitive toward Catholics and was careless about saying things that could be construed as anti-Catholic?
It’s very hard for me to deal with motive and intent. Is the person a real bigot? Unless the person admits to it, I don’t know. I’m not here to judge a pure heart.
What are you going to say to Hagee when you meet?
I want to sit down and talk to him. There’s not going to be any lectures. I got what I needed. I just want to shake his hand and thank him for doing this. I’m hoping now that people in our society who’ have looked on him as telling the truth about the Catholic church’s relations with Jews will hopefully reconsider….
There’s a residue of anti-Catholicism in part of the evangelical community and when you have the readiness of mind to believe the worst of any group, it becomes easier to swallow the moonshine, so to speak.
How far back does Hagee’s record of making anti-Catholic statements go?
I wrote to him in 1997 and he never wrote back. We had somebody from our chapter go to one of his events and he had some video that was casting aspersions (on Catholics) and he never answered me.
People like Tony Perkins and Richard Land and James Dobson, we obviously have theological differences, but there has always been comity and an amicable relationship. I get involved with them occasionally on policy things, like Justice Sunday, and Hagee is not only not invited, his name is not even mentioned. He’s kind of out of the loop.
Are you concerned that all of Hagee’s books and other writings about Catholics are still in circulation? Does he need to renounce all that?
If you were to come by my office, you would see hundreds upon hundreds of books by anti-Catholics—we have a huge library of them. You can’t do anything about his books.
The McCain campaign has caught a lot of grief over its Hagee endorsement. Has the campaign been in touch with you about resolving this issue?
The campaign has not been in touch with me, but intermediaries have been in touch back to the time when this happened.
I’m not a virgin. I understand where this is coming from. We’re in the middle of a presidential campaign. He took on enormous pressure because I went after him after he endorsed McCain. So there are all kinds of media now who had never heard of this guy and they’re not putting him in the spotlight. He got rapped all over the place. Could I have gotten this letter eleven years ago? No, he blew me off then.