John McCain on Thursday rejected the endorsement of an influential evangelical Christian leader who has faced criticism for controversial remarks about the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
The Republican presidential candidate acted after the emergence of an audio recording in which John Hagee claimed God had used Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.
“I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them,” Mr McCain said in a statement. “I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”
The Arizona senator has faced weeks of pressure to sever ties with Mr Hagee, the pastor of a Texas megachurch, who has described the Catholic church as the “Great Whore” and claimed that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for New Orleans allowing a gay pride march to take place.
Mr McCain had previously condemned the pastor’s statements but refused to reject his endorsement, arguing that it was possible for candidates to disagree with supporters on some issues. But he changed his stance on Thursday after learning of the remarks about Hitler, which surfaced on the internet last week.
Democrats have sought to draw a parallel between Mr Hagee and Jeremiah Wright, the controversial black pastor whose “anti-American” sermons have bedevilled Barack Obama’s campaign.
Mr McCain said there was no comparison between the two cases because his ties to Mr Hagee were much weaker than Mr Obama’s relationship with Mr Wright. “I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright’s extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser and I did not attend his church for 20 years.”
The senator appeared with Mr Hagee at a conference to announce the pastor’s endorsement in February, when Mr McCain was engaged in a fierce battle for the Republican nomination. Mr Hagee’s backing was viewed as a breakthrough in efforts to win support from the religious right, which has viewed Mr McCain with suspicion due to his moderate reputation.
Mr Hagee on Thursday said his views had been “grossly misrepresented” by Mr McCain’s critics.
“I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues,” he said in a statement.
The Financial Times