Catholic Left Beats McCain with Hagee Stick

Deal W. Hudson
March 13, 2008

The moment Bill Donohue demanded that Senator John McCain repudiate the anti-Catholicism of Rev. John Hagee, the Democrats began rubbing their hands in anticipation. Between February 28 and March 10, Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, issued eleven press releases.

By the time Donohue announced “this case is closed” the McCain-Hagee story had been referenced every day on cable news and in the print media.

But what satisfied Bill Donohue was not enough for a group called “Catholics United,” a middle-to-left organization “dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Tradition.”

For the past year, Catholics United has pushed a number of issues it considers of importance to Catholics, most of them at the expense of Republicans: global warming, torture, children’s health care, ending the Iraq War, and now the endorsement of McCain by Texas pastor John Hagee.

A March 7 press release from Catholics United applauded McCain’s repudiation of Hagee’s anti-Catholicism but called upon him to “reject” Hagee’s endorsement outright.

Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, stated, “By publicly accepting and celebrating this endorsement, McCain is sending a signal that he tolerates these extremist positions. Hagee has offended many groups besides Catholics. The best way for him to move forward is by simply rejecting his endorsement.”

Here’s what McCain said:

I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.

The “Hagee moment” in McCain’s campaign even gave pro-abortion Catholic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) the opportunity of criticizing the pro-life senator from Arizona. The fact that Pelosi’s statement failed to provoke widespread laughter demonstrates the power of the anti-Catholic label to turn off Catholics.

Here’s the new reality among American Catholics: There is nothing that will lose a candidate the Catholic vote more quickly than the taint of anti-Catholicism. Among laymen, Bill Donohue should be credited more than any other single figure for telling Catholics to demand respect for their faith. Donohue’s Catholic League makes media moguls think twice about bashing the Catholic Church – and he’s made the reality of anti-Catholicism a factor in presidential politics.

In the background of Donohue’s achievements are the myriad changes in the U.S. Catholic Church since the beginning (1978) of John Paul II’s papacy. These changes are part of the story I tell in my recently published book, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (Simon & Schuster).

John Paul II gave America’s Catholics pride in their Church, and a sense of empowerment they had not felt in many years. The changes stemming from the Second Vatican Council – some mandated by the Council, some not – had left Catholics unsure about their legacy and the traditions they, their parents, and grandparents had followed for many generations.

John Paul II helped to make sense out of those changes and reestablished spiritual and moral priorities that seemed in line with those previous generations thought left behind in the old “pre-Vatican II” world.

Among those priorities was the support he gave to the Catholic pro-life movement which had been started by the U.S. Catholic Conference in the early 70s but was superseded by the bishops’ embrace of the “seamless garment” approach to social teaching.

The life issues under the leadership of John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI, have become the focal political issues – the non-negotiables – by which Catholics can evaluate their political leaders and their platforms. The consequences of which were witnessed clearly in the controversies surrounding the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.

If you look for a pro-life message on the website of Catholics United you will find it connected to support of children’s health care (S-CHIP) legislation. Whatever your position on that legislation, it is hardly the totality of the Church’s understanding of what it means to be pro-life.

Catholics United did not get much traction in making S-CHIP into a “pro-life” issue. But anti-Catholicism is an altogether more potent charge to make against the Republican candidate, and one that the GOP should take very seriously.

So should McCain be forced to completely reject Hagee’s endorsement? No, it is enough that he repudiated his anti-Catholic attitude and statements. If candidates could only accept endorsements from people they were 100% in agreement with no one would be able to accept anyone’s endorsement! McCain did the right thing, but it gave his opposition ten days of media time to send out negative buzz to Catholic voters.

The bottom line is this: Any politician who wants to win the Catholic vote will not only have to contend with Catholic concerns about life issues but also avoid any flirtation with anti-Catholicism.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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