Click here if you don’t see subscription options
James Martin, S.J.June 28, 2009

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.

Nixon: Yeah.

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.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
13 years 9 months ago
Well certainly Nixon was not correct in his statement as to all Jesuits, but he was on target as to many Jesuits-even in our present day. 
13 years 9 months ago
Messy. This was a black period for the Jesuits when nobody could seem to discern their vocation and it was often a case of bickering over politics rather than seeking the greater Glory of God that motivated many in the beautiful Society of Jesus.In that period they were no longer working on a higher plane than these guys and instead were simply the other side of the coin. Happy to be so but still falling a long way short of their origin.The North American part anyway.I have known Jesuits who were very broadminded men but basically rooted in their Faith and so much more of a  reproach to a Nixon than those who sought the end in temporal paths.   A return to the Gospel and the Charism of Ignatius is well underway even if it is not visible to many who constantly lament the Jesuits ,not realizing that it is not monolithic.The Lord Jesus it seems is intent on taking back what is His.Today I will offer a special prayer for all of those Jesuits who give so much and yet struggle with their vocation.
13 years 9 months ago
 Kroll of Philadelphia I think it is just one more "good guy" Father Martin to add to Cooke  ( I am very disappointed that Padre Martin -as suburban Philadelphia native -did not pick up on Kroll - I guessed before I heard the tape!) What do I win???      
13 years 9 months ago
I find more Gospel truth in the teachings of the Jesuits and the Benedictines than anywhere else.  With thier deep intent toward a pure spirituality they force us to walk in the Way of Jesus.  When we finally appreciate that we were never meant to fall in line all at the same time we will learn to gain what we can from each others perspectives.  Jesus chose 12 different people to follow him because we are not all made the same.  I am going to assume he knew what he was doing.
13 years 9 months ago
"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." Isn't it beautiful? The Jesuits were the ones there for me when the blinders of my childish conservatism fell from my eyes and I began to see what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day that they laid heavy burdens on the weak. But Jesus said to the people "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." And the people said, and are saying, "Amen!"
13 years 9 months ago
I  admire those peace activist Jesuits like Daniel Berrigan.  
13 years 9 months ago
Telling us to 'think with the Church' and think with Nixon and Graham.!!!!. One cancels out the other IMHO. It's amazing the taliban Catholics can find any note/piece/blog  to advance their agenda.
13 years 9 months ago
The "McLaughlin" they're talking about is John McLaughlin-former Jesuit, former Nixon speech writer and current TV host, right?
13 years 9 months ago

. . .  and have betrayed their church by equating secularization with the movement of the spirit. The order has been eviscerated, the institutional strength of the Church undermined, and our young people exposed more than ever before to the ravages of culture and the State.  If we act like a State cult we will be treated like one by people - if we are only about baptising  the preferences and desires of the culture at large, they will elevate their preference to reject church discipline to a holy witness. If we want to be comfortably prophetic and never go to the dangerously sensitive source of the errors of the age then our assimilation into the State will be complete.  If that spirit instead is turned against the church, we can present to ourselves the delusion that we are courageous mavericks and assuage a guilty conscience, but left unconfronted are the chief priests of the dominant despotic orthodoxy - secularism. And our promise to follow our discipleship into dangerous situations has been broken. We become ashamed of Him. Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues in his speech to rectors about vocations explains in more detail, how older priests can redeem themselves for the sake of their orders and young men interested in priesthood generally. No more conservative hidebound clinging to a defunct 30 year tradition of 'secularisation' young people want a home, young people want religious orders to think with the church and want them to stop being divisive. So America Magazine  please - think with the Church! 

The latest from america

Two people hug reunited in front of a wall
We should focus on what today’s reading outlines as a uniter, that being a sanctuary under God.
Cristobal SpielmannMarch 31, 2023
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan outside the parliament in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been coming out into the streets for the past three months in escalating pro-democracy protests against the most politically and religiously extreme right-wing government Israel has ever had.
Judith SudilovskyMarch 31, 2023
Pope Francis waving to the crowd in front of a depiction of Che Guevera in Havana, Cuba
Ahead of the U.S. theatrical release of “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis,” America spoke with Gianfranco Rosi about his ideas for the documentary and how the film is a modern-day Stations of the Cross.
Ryan Di CorpoMarch 31, 2023
pope francis greets medical workers in a hospital in 2021
I was pleasantly surprised to realize that amid all the polarization and turmoil found online among Catholics, we can still come together to pray for an old man who happens to be our pope.
Molly CahillMarch 31, 2023