In a wide-ranging conversation on Feb. 21, 1973, which you can listen to here (nixonlibrary.gov Tape 43, Conversation 161) the Rev. Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon discuss American Catholics, and the Jesuits, among other topics.
After Graham quotes his son as saying about Nixon, “You’re the greatest president we’ve ever had in the history of America,” Graham says, “And I believe it. I believe it. I believe the Lord is with you, I really do.” The two men move on to discussing Israel and Middle East politics, as well as a rabbi who has criticized a new ecumenical movement among Christian churches. Nixon then makes his now well-known comments about anti-Semitism, which had been picked up widely last week.
What has gone unnoticed is the latter part of this conversation, in which Nixon and Graham turn their thoughts to the Catholic church. Graham broaches the topic of organizing on a “world scale” a counterpart to the World Council of Churches, to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland, for those churches who are “sick and tired” of the World Council, which Graham surmises will include “at least half” of the Anglican world. “And we’ll be better financed,” says Graham. Nixon wonders if the Catholics will be joining up. Below is my transcription of what follows. (Thanks to Joseph Cleary, an eagle-eared listener for identifying the words "Krol of Philadelphia," which even for this Philadelphian confirmed by the man, were hard to decipher.) Krol is one of two "good guys" in the church, according to Nixon.
President Nixon: Now what about the Catholics?
Rev. Graham: We don’t know. They’re going to come in great numbers as observers.
Graham: So far, they would not be able to participate, and uh, you know the Southern Baptist and other groups wouldn’t um…
Nixon: Yeah…the trouble is…
Graham: They couldn’t anyway.
Nixon: Yeah. The difficulty too is that the Catholics aren’t [in better shape] with that too. They’re going be losing their stroke, because…
Graham: They’re…they’re…that is the problem.
Nixon: They’re split right down the middle. They sure are. You’ve got the good guys like [John Cardinal] Krol of Philadelphia, and [Terence Cardinal] Cooke in New York. And then there’s this bad wing, the Jesuits, who used to be the conservatives, and have become now become the all-out, barn-burning radicals.
Graham: I think quite a bit, by the way, of that fellow you’ve got working with you—[John] McLaughlin [SJ, who would soon leave the Jesuits].
Nixon. Oh yeah [laughter] the priest, yeah. You know, he’s good, and he’s sort of a convert to our side. He came in a total, all-out peacenik and then went to Vietnam and changed his mind.
Graham: I never met him, until I was over at a prayer breakfast over at the White House about a month ago. He invited me up to his office, and I went over and spent about an hour with him.
Nixon: He's a very capable fellow, bright as a tack.