By LIBBY QUAID
The Associated Press
Saturday, March 1, 2008; 3:22 AM
PHOENIX -- John McCain is refusing to renounce the endorsement of a prominent Texas televangelist who Democrats say peddles anti-Catholic and other intolerant speech.
Instead, the Republican presidential candidate issued a statement Friday afternoon saying he had unspecified disagreements with the San Antonio megachurch leader, John Hagee. Hagee endorsed him at a news conference Wednesday in San Antonio.
"However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee's views, which I obviously do not," McCain said in the statement.
His campaign issued the statement after two days of criticism from the Democratic National Committee, the Catholic League and Catholics United.
Democrats quoted Hagee as saying the Catholic Church conspired with Nazis against the Jews and that Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution for homosexual sin, and they recited his demeaning comments about women and flip remarks about slavery.
"Hagee's hate speech has no place in public discourse, and McCain's embrace of this figure raises serious questions about John McCain's character and his willingness to do anything to win," said Tom McMahon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee.
McCain was pressed on the issue Friday morning in Round Rock, Texas. Hagee "supports what I stand for and believe in," McCain said.
"When he endorses me, that does not mean that I endorse everything that he stands for and believes in," McCain said. "I don't have to agree with everyone who endorses my campaign."
He added that he was "proud" of Hagee's spiritual leadership of his congregation at the 17,000-member Cornerstone Church.
The Catholic League and Catholics United called on McCain to reject the endorsement.
"By publicly addressing this issue, you will reaffirm to the American public and to Catholics that intolerance and bigotry have no place in American presidential campaigns," Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, wrote McCain in a letter sent Thursday.
McCain's response to the two days of criticism stood in contrast to his rapid denunciation of a radio talk show host who denigrated Barack Obama, repeatedly using Obama's middle name, Hussein, and calling him a "hack, Chicago-style" politician.
McCain immediately apologized and said he repudiated the statements of the radio host, Bill Cunningham, while warming up a Cincinnati crowd for McCain on Tuesday.
"Any comment that is disparaging of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama is totally inappropriate," McCain said at the time.
(This version CORRECTS SUBS 8th graf, When he, to correct to "I endorse" sted "I embrace.")