Feb. 25, 2000
To His Eminence John Cardinal O'Connor:
A few weeks ago I visited Bob Jones University in South Carolina to address its students and outline the reasons I am seeking the presidency. Some have taken and mistaken this visit as a sign that I approve of the anti-Catholic and racially divisive views associated with that school. As you know from a long friendship with my family and our own meeting last year this criticism is unfair and unfounded. Such opinions are personally offensive to me, and I want to erase any doubts about my views and values.
As a public official, I take seriously my duty to encourage tolerance and respect for the religious views of others. As a Christian, I see Catholics as my brothers and sisters in Christ sharing the same ancient creed and core beliefs. And, as you know, my own brother and sister-in-law are both Catholics.
Criticism should be expected in any political campaign. What no American should expect and what I will not tolerate is guilt by association. I reject racial segregation in our laws, in our hearts and our lives. And I reject religious intolerance because faith is defined by grace and hope, not fear and division.
In my speech to the students, I emphasized that I am a uniter not a divider and that Americans can work together for the good of all. On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret.
I have profound respect for the Catholic church a sympathy beyond mere tolerance. I have argued that our prosperous society must offer answers for the poor and, on this issue, the Catholic Church helps shape our country's conscience. I have proposed a broader role for churches and charities in providing social services and the Catholic Church has always led our nation in acts of justice and charity. In this campaign I am offering an approach that is morally grounded and socially inclusive. I hope and intend that anyone closely examining my agenda will see reflections of a much greater tradition a tradition of social justice defended and represented by the Catholic Church.
This is why I am offended by any suggestion that I tolerate anti-Catholic bigotry and resent any attempt to create that impression.
I hope that you, and all Catholics, will accept this assurance of my good faith.
George W. Bush.