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Hagee expresses `deep regret' to Catholics

Texas megachurch pastor John Hagee, who endorsed presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and drew sharp criticism for comments critics called anti-Catholic, has written a letter expressing "deep regret" for causing any harm.

Hagee, who leads Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, was harshly criticized by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and Democratic National Committee officials.

"Out of a desire to advance greater unity among Catholics and evangelicals in promoting the common good, I want to express my deep regret for any comments that Catholics have found hurtful," Hagee wrote in a May 12 letter to Donohue.

Hagee, who also is the founder of Christians United for Israel, said he gained an "improved understanding" of Catholics after recent "constructive dialogue" with Catholic leaders.

"In my zeal to oppose anti-Semitism and bigotry in all its ugly forms, I have often emphasized the darkest chapters in the history of Catholic and Protestant relations with the Jews," he wrote. "In the process, I 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."

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He said he does not consider the phrases "apostate church" and the "great whore" to be synonymous with the Catholic Church.

"I better understand that reference to the Roman Catholic Church as the `apostate church' and the `great whore' described in the Book of Revelation is a rhetorical device long employed in anti-Catholic literature and commentary," he continued.

Donohue, in response, issued a statement on Tuesday saying "this case is closed," and expressing hopes for stronger interfaith relations.

"He wants reconciliation and he has achieved it," said Donohue. "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."

McCain, campaigning in Washington state Tuesday, told reporters that Hagee's apology was "very helpful" and "a laudable thing to do."

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