WASHINGTON -- Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain on Thursday (May 22) renounced the endorsement of Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee after Hagee again came under fire, this time for controversial comments about the Holocaust.
Barely 30 minutes after McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement, Hagee himself withdrew his endorsement of McCain and vowed to no longer take "any active role" in the 2008 campaign.
Hagee drew the ire of the nation's largest Jewish movement for a 1990s sermon that reportedly suggested that God used Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust as part of a divine plan to have Jews return to Israel.
On Thursday, McCain signaled that Hagee's remarks had become burdensome to his campaign.
"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them," McCain said in a statement to CNN, reported on CNNPolitics.com. "I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."
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The Arizona Republican also said that, unlike the longtime ties between Sen. Barack Obama and his controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Hagee was never McCain's spiritual adviser or pastor.
On Thursday morning, Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, called a Wednesday report in The Huffington Post blog a "mischaracterization of my statements by an Internet journalist seeking to use me as a political football in the upcoming presidential race."
Huffington Post writer Sam Stein quoted a Hagee sermon referring to the biblical Book of Jeremiah, in which Hagee said Hitler could be interpreted as a hunter of the Jews.
"And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended," Hagee said. "I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, `My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.'"
Hagee said in his Thursday morning statement that it is "the worst of lies" to suggest that he condones the Holocaust or Hitler.
"I have always condemned the horrors of the Holocaust in the strongest of terms," said Hagee, who is the founder of the group Christians United for Israel. "I have devoted most of my adult life to ensuring that there never be a second Holocaust."
Hagee said he has sought biblical answers for why the Holocaust occurred but added, "It is a serious error to confuse this search for answers as an acceptance or approval of the Holocaust or any other tragedy."
In pulling his endorsement, Hagee said he had been the subject of "attacks" since he announced support for McCain earlier this year.
"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," Hagee said Thursday afternoon.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, had already written an open letter to Hagee, calling his remarks "especially troubling" and urging him to explain and repudiate the comments.
Earlier this month, Hagee wrote a letter of apology expressing "deep regret" for comments he made that critics considered anti-Catholic.