March 03, 2008

Sen. John McCain is facing questions about his close ties to Rev. John Hagee (pictured here with McCain, whom he has endorsed for President). Hagee is leader of the controversial “€œProtestant Ultramontanists“€”€”Evangelical Christians who favor not only the safety and security of Vatican City, but the forcible reconquest of the former Papal States, even at the cost of war with Italy and the rest of the 500-million strong European Union. This American-based movement (whose rise has puzzled most American Catholics and even officials within the Holy See) is a relatively recent development, which grew from readings of current events and recent history in the light of the final book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse. According to Hagee, a Texas minister, it is the duty of all Christians to “€œrestore to God’s chosen country all the territory which it was granted by almighty GOD… through His appointed representative, the Emperor Constantine.”€ The region in question would amount to most of the currently Italian regions of Lazio, Campagna, and Emilia-Romagna”€”historically papal regions, which today, however, hold comparatively few supporters of the Papal States (known locally as “Guelphs”). Significantly, the Vatican has indicated no desire to annex these territories, which observers doubt it could govern.

Such obstacles do not daunt Hagee, or his hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic supporters in Evangelical mega-churches across America, who insist that a combination of “€œdivine assistance”€ and significant military support by the United States will ensure victory. America must aid in the expansion of Vatican territory, Hagee insists “€œbecause almighty GOD will bless those who bless His priestly people, and curse those who curse them.”€ In a controversial 2006 TV sermon, Protestant Ultramontanist Rev. Pat Robertson cited the unexpected death of Pope Pius XI in 1939 as “divine punishment” for Pius’ acceptance of the Lateran Treaty in 1929, which traded “€œland for peace,”€ and renounced papal claims on territory then inhabited by Italians. Said Robertson, “€œI think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, ‘divide my land.’”€

What motivates this movement? A particular form of Dispensationalist Protestantism that holds to a rigid set of timetables and preconditions for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. “€œThere must be wars and rumors of wars,”€ insisted Hagee, “€œand the return of the Holy See to its Promised Land in its entirety”€”we’re talking from Ferrara down to Velletri, the whole kit and caboodle,”€ Hagee told this reporter in an interview at a Waffle House in Texarkana, where the preacher stopped en route to a well-attended conference in Waco, Texas sponsored by the Protestant Ultramontanist youth group that calls itself “€œTeens for the Tribulation.”€

Offering me one of the youth groups’ signature t-shirts, which read “€œApocalypse”€”NOW!”€, Hagee allowed his Grilled Texas Bacon Chicken Melt Plate to cool as he laid out his aspirations for the first 100 days of a McCain administration: “€œFirst, the restoration of the Kingdom, then the rise of the Antichrist. The Beast must ascend the throne of the Most High and be worshiped in the place of Christ. Then shall come the Great Apostasy, and the Chastening, and the Conversion of the Remnant, the Rapture, and the Coming of the Lord.”€

Here Hagee referred to the Protestant Ultramontanist belief that after the reestablishment of the Papal States, they will come to be dominated by the “€œAntichrist,”€ who will seduce the vast bulk of Roman Catholics into a satanic cult. A saving Remnant, however, of the Catholics will convert en masse to Protestantism”€”after which they and the rest of the world’s faithful Christians will be “€œtaken up into the air,”€ or “€œraptured,”€ to spare them the ravages promised in the book of the Apocalypse, which will doom at least one-third of the earth’s population (official estimates vary), and end only with the Second Coming of Christ.

Given Islamist attacks against Catholic churches in Indonesia, Sudan, and Iraq, and the growing hostility of governments in the region toward Christian faith and moral teachings, some leading Catholic clerics are grateful for the moral support from this surprising quarter. However, officials of the Holy See privately expressed caution about the organization’s broader agenda. “€œThey are… crazy, these Americans,”€ one curia cardinal observed in an impromptu conversation near the fountain of the Piazza Santo Uffizio. “€œWhat are you people smoking over there?”€, he inquired.

Given the pivotal influence of Catholics in both major political parties, and almost universal bipartisan support for the Holy See, few of Sen. McCain’s rivals have called him to account for his embrace of Hagee, despite his expansive agenda and unconventional theology. However, other aspects of Hagee’s views have raised concerns”€”such as his insistent use of anti-Semitic language in sermons and other public statements. For instance, in his latest book, Vatican Countdown, Hagee blames the murder of millions of Christians in the former Soviet Union on the Jewish origins of several Bolshevik leaders, such as Leon Trotsky and Lazar Kaganovich“€”despite their own renunciation of Judaism and overt antipathy to Jewish believers (thousands of whom they persecuted). Hagee has also described Judaism as a “false cult,” and identified the State of Israel with the “€œWhore of Babylon”€ described in the Apocalypse:

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Leaders of organizations devoted to fighting anti-Semitism have repeatedly called on Senator John McCain to distance himself from Hagee in light of these remarks, so far with no success. Said McCain in response to criticism: “€œI am very proud of the Pastor John Hagee’s spiritual leadership to thousands of people and I am proud of his commitment to the independence and the freedom of the Papal States.”€


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