Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Thursday he was personally offended by the provocative messages two of his campaign bloggers wrote criticizing the Catholic Church, but he's not going to fire them.
Edwards issued a statement and answered questions about the fate of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan, two days after the head of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights demanded they be fired for messages they wrote before working on the campaign.
"I talked personally to the two women who were involved. They gave me their word they, under no circumstances, intended to denigrate any church or anybody's religion and offered their apologies for anything that indicated otherwise. I took them at their word," Edwards told reporters during a campaign stop in Charleston, S.C.
Written regrets and fair shakes
An angry Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, which counts 350,000 members, criticized Edwards for not firing the two bloggers. Donohue also promised a nationwide public relations campaign in newspapers, magazines and Catholic publications to tell voters what the candidate had done.
"When Mel Gibson got drunk and made anti-Semitic remarks, he paid a price for doing so. When Michael Richards got angry and made racist remarks, he paid a price for doing so. ... But John Edwards thinks the same rules don't apply to him, which is why he has chosen to embrace foul-mouthed, anti-Catholic bigots on his payroll," Donohue said.
Edwards has never met the two bloggers and his first conversation with them came when he called to discuss the uproar. The 2004 vice presidential nominee told reporters in South Carolina: "It will not happen again. That you can be sure of."
The campaign distributed written regrets from the two women, who stressed they were writing on personal blogs. Edwards said in the statement he believes in giving everyone a "fair shake."
On Tuesday, Donohue called for Edwards to fire the bloggers, citing posts that the women made in the past several months in which they criticized the church's opposition to homosexuality, abortion and contraception, sometimes using profanity.
"The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me," Edwards said in the statement. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor or anything else."
The two were hired last week as part of Edwards' outreach to liberal voters and online activists.
Campaign unaware of specific postings
Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said the campaign was aware that Marcotte and McEwan, like many bloggers, had written provocative postings on their personal sites. But the campaign had not read them all and had not seen the postings criticizing the church until Donohue put out a statement Tuesday, Palmieri said.
For instance, Marcotte had written that the church wants "to force women to bear more tithing Catholics" and McEwan had written that the pope is among those who "regularly speak out against gay tolerance." Other postings used more graphic language.
Edwards remained silent for two days as the controversy grew on the Internet. Most of those posting on liberal Web sites were calling for Edwards to keep the bloggers on staff and stand up to Donohue, and many were vowing to work against him if he didn't.
Donohue is a frequent critic of those who speak out against the church and what he calls "political correctness run amok," such as the separation of Christmas and the holiday season.
Donohue also doesn't shy from blunt language sometimes in his criticism of gays, Hollywood's control by "secular Jews who hate Christianity" and even the Edwards bloggers, whom he referred to as "brats" in an interview Wednesday on MSNBC.
Palmieri said Edwards had been traveling through Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma and wanted time to discuss the bloggers' statements with them and weigh their future.
"We're dealing with people's careers and reputations and livelihoods," Palmieri said.
‘Deep respect for diverse beliefs’
In her statement, McEwan said she doesn't expect Edwards to agree with everything she's posted, but they share "an unwavering support of religious freedom and a deep respect for diverse beliefs.”
Marcotte's statement said her writings on religion on her blog, Pandagon, are generally satirical criticisms of public policies and politics.
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a nonprofit formed to highlight Catholic social justice teachings, also issued a statement condemning the bloggers' remarks but accepting Edwards' assurances that he was also offended.
"Catholics comprise more than one quarter of the U.S. public, and neither John Edwards nor any other candidate can afford to take this constituency for granted," said executive director Alexia Kelley, who served briefly as a religious adviser to 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.