Catholic League declares end to Rev. Hagee controversy

Catholic League declares end to Rev. Hagee controversy

Pastor John Hagee / Bill Donohue
Pastor John Hagee / Bill Donohue


An apologetic letter sent by the Texas pastor Rev. John Hagee to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has put an end to the controversy surrounding his alleged anti-Catholic views, the Catholic League said on Tuesday.

Hagee had been criticized for reportedly calling the Catholic Church “The Great Whore,” an “apostate church,” the “anti-Christ,” and a “false cult system.”  He had also accused the Catholic Church of nurturing anti-Semitism.  Hagee repeated allegations of Pope Pius XII’s indifference to Nazism and linked Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism to his Catholic education.

Hagee’s views became a national issue after he endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain’s bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.

In a May 12 letter to the Catholic League and its president Bill Donohue, Rev. Hagee said he was writing to “clarify my views” and “advance greater unity between Catholics and Evangelicals.”

“I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful,” he wrote.  “After engaging in constructive dialogue with Catholic friends and leaders, I now have an improved understanding of the Catholic Church, its relation to the Jewish faith, and the history of anti-Catholicism.”

He said that in his zeal to oppose anti-Semitism, he had concentrated on the “darkest chapters” in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with Jews.  He acknowledged that he may have contributed to the “mistaken impression” that the anti-Jewish violence of the Crusades and the Inquisition “defines the Catholic Church.”

“It most certainly does not,” Hagee declared.  He said he had not sufficiently expressed his admiration for Catholics who opposed the persecution of Jews and he cited the work of Rabbi David Dalin, who praises Pope Pius XII’s personal intervention in saving Jews during World War II.

Rev. Hagee said he now better understood how references to the Catholic Church as the “great whore” and the “apostate church” have been used in classic anti-Catholic rhetoric.  He said that his interpretation of such phrases teaches that such a church appears only “during the seven years of tribulation after all true believers – Catholic and Protestant – have been taken up to heaven.”

“I pledge to address these sensitive subjects in the future with a greater level of compassion and respect for my Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.

CNA has learned that a lunch at Les Halles hosted by Rev. Hagee proved to be a crucial turning point for bringing about the reconciliation. Those present for the luncheon included, Russell Shaw, Robert Reilly, Sen. Tom Coburn, several other well-known Catholics, David Brog, the head of Christians United for Israel and Mr. and Mrs. Hagee.

One of the attendees, Deal Hudson, explained to CNA that, "This lunch at Les Halles in Washington DC illustrates the point from my book that Catholics and Evangelicals need to recognize their de facto partnership, protect it, and nurture it."

"Pastor Hagee should be congratulated for seeking this reconciliation with Catholics. His humility and generosity point the way for all Christians who want to continuing working together to build a culture of life. Christians cannot allow themselves to be divided at such an important time in the history of our nation. Pastor Hagee recognized the necessity of overcoming this division and reached out to Bill Donahue who graciously accepted his expression of regret. John Hagee is obviously a man who puts his faith before political squabbles," Hudson added.

Bill Donohue replied to Hagee’s letter in a Tuesday statement, saying Hagee “has pledged to provide a more complete and balanced portrayal going forward that will not reinforce mischaracterizations of the Catholic Church.”

“The tone of Hagee’s letter is sincere. He wants reconciliation and he has achieved it. Indeed, the Catholic League welcomes his apology. What Hagee has done takes courage and quite frankly I never expected him to demonstrate such sensitivity to our concerns. But he has done just that. Now Catholics, along with Jews, can work with Pastor Hagee in making interfaith relations stronger than ever. Whatever problems we had before are now history. This case is closed,” Donohue said.

The Associated Press reached John McCain for comment while he was campaigning in Washington state. He described Hagee's apology as "very helpful." “Whenever somebody apologizes for something they did wrong, then I think that that's a laudable thing to do," he added. When McCain was asked if he or his campaign played a role in brokering Hagee's letter, he just stated: "I certainly wasn't."

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