Some Thoughts on the Passing of Billy Graham


Here in the great state of North Carolina one cannot escape the shadow of the Reverend Billy Graham, who died today at the age of 99. As you exit the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport you drive on the Billy Graham Parkway. Not far from that very same airport, in his hometown of Charlotte,  you can visit the Billy Graham Library which celebrates his six decades of ministry.

Graham was a spiritual counselor and trusted advisor to U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. His televised Billy Graham Crusades were seen by tens of millions over six decades. With the possible exception of Pope John Paul II, Rev. Graham was the most seen Christian evangelist in the world.

Today we read many tributes offered in his memory. Here are a few brief thoughts offered for your consideration:

Eulogize, yes. Canonize, no. As Catholics we must resist the urge to join Protestants in declaring that Graham is now “with the Lord.” The truth is we don’t know. The incomplete theology of other Christians, one that fails to acknowledge the reality of purgatory and the need to pray for the dead, must be rejected. We should praise Billy Graham the Christian evangelist while still publicly affirming that we will also pray for his soul. One would hope that prominent Catholic priests and bishops would do the same. Rev. Graham never feared to proclaim the gospel (as he understood it), even its unpopular truths. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see that same fearlessness from our bishops by offering Masses for him and publicly asking all to pray for him?

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.  At the same time, let us reject the epic evangelical failure of those tone deaf Catholics who are using the passing of Rev. Graham to loudly declare, “outside the Church there is no salvation!” While they proclaim truth, they lack charity in their failure to elaborate. Do they seek to convert hearts or win debate points? Their implication that Rev. Graham will not experience the beatific vision fails to recognize our full understanding of salvation.

As I often do, let’s look to Father Francis Spirago’s great nineteenth century Catechism Explained for clarity. While clearly reaffirming that the Catholic Church alone possesses the means which lead to salvation, Fr. Spirago also notes:

If, however, a man, through no fault of his own, remains outside the Church, he may be saved if he lead a God-fearing life; for such a one is to all intents and purposes a member of the Catholic Church. The majority of men who have been brought up in heresy think that they belong to the true Church; their error is not due to hatred of God. A man who leads a good life and has the love of God in his heart, really belongs to the Church, and such a one is saved, not by his heresy, but by belonging to the Church. St. Peter said: “In every nation he that feareth God and worketh justice is acceptable to Him” (Acts x. 35).

This was of course restated by Vatican II, but it’s important to show that this has always been the teaching of the Church. To acknowledge this truth isn’t to deny the fact that indifferentism still plagues the Church and must be soundly condemned.

Evangelizing Billy Graham. Was the Reverend Billy Graham ever evangelized by Catholic priests or bishops? Or by anyone of the popes of the last fifty years? Did anyone ever seek to introduce him to Catholicism? Did any prominent bishop care enough for his soul to seek him out? I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. However, it saddens me to think that no one may have even tried simply because he was a famous evangelical leader.

The Catholic Church isn’t simply the truth for Catholics. The sacraments aren’t simply the visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace for a few. As Catholics we know that all men need sacramental grace, it is not simply an option or preference. From baptism, to confession, to the Eucharist, the thought of living a life absent sacramental grace is unfathomable. The thought of dying without the grace of the sacraments is downright scary. At the passing of such a prominent Protestant we are afforded an opportunity to teach others what exactly is meant when we proclaim that the Church has the fullness of the truth. If we give others the impression that the Catholic Church is simply one of many denominations, then we have failed them.

Resist Pelagianism. Lastly, one senses a bit of Pelagianism in the Catholic response to Graham’s passing. It is human nature (and noble I would argue) to exalt the good of a man who has just died. Grandiose language and glowing tributes should not be condemned. Verbal excesses can be excused. What we as Catholics should try our best to avoid is equating the evangelical “good works” of Reverend Graham with our hope for his salvation. International fame, even for something as noble as sharing the gospel, does not earn one heaven. Having said that, we do (literally) pray that these works are a manifestation of his belief. It is simply important to be a bit more careful and precise in our praise for this great man.

In the end what we do know is this: the vast majority of Protestants will not be praying for the repose of his soul as they have already canonized him with their magisterium of one. That being the case, may we pray for his soul; that he may realize the beatific vision. We hope that he will spend eternity with Our Lord. Anything less lacks charity and is not Catholic.

Posted on February 21, 2018, in holiness, life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Suggested readings:

    About Billy Graham and Saint Pope John Paul II:

    About the need to pray for the dead:

  2. Concerning offering Mass for him… if I’m not mistaken, traditionnally the Church cannot offer Mass for those who passed away out of her communion. Not even offer any kind of public prayer.

  3. Leroy Sheckelstein

    What is not charitable is denying the truth of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. Which the Catholic Church has solemnly defined three times by infallible declarations. If anyone had plenty of opportunity to convert to Catholicism, it was Rev. Graham. But he chose to reject Church Teaching (such as John 6), and led millions of souls to hell. That is the fact we should be proclaiming, if we really cared about those souls still outside the Catholic faith. But we’ve chosen the coward’s way of being ecumenical. Any wonder the Church is in serious crisis?

    • Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick

      Billy Graham never led a single soul to Hell. He led millions of people to faith in Jesus Christ.

      It was all under the aegis of an inadequate, maimed version of Christianity. We should pray that Graham himself and those who heard his preaching may be led by grace to a more perfect understanding and union with Christ than Protestantism offers.

      But your lip-smacking over millions of people dropping into Hell is all too typical of Feeneyites. It is repulsive and not-Catholic.

      • It matters not one iota whom he (Rev. Billy Graham) led into eternity.

        That is not the measure of salvation my good Father! The fact that there are souls in hell is irrefutable unless you claim to know more than Catholic doctrine and numerous saints who saw a great number of souls in hell.

        We save ourselves by our baptism (water, blood, or desire), we are being saved by our practice of the Once and Future Catholic faith, we will be saved if we remain faithful until the end. God alone is the final Judge. No priest, bishop, or layman can canonize anyone and neither can we condemn anyone to hell. That is the purview of God alone as the merciful and just final Arbiter.

  4. While we should avoid Pelagianism, (and somehow this has become the new catholic buzzword, his works are not merely a manifestation of his faith, but rather those works themselves redound unto his salvation. Cf. Canon 32 and others of Trent, works don’t merely show faith, they themselves merit grace and the glory of eternal life.

  5. Leroy Sheckelstein

    Wow, so upholding Church teaching now makes one a feenyite? I’m not even sure what that is, but I will assume it’s a calumnious attack on me. And from a priest no less. Like I wrote, the Church is in a massive crisis, and it’s this type of effeminate defense of the faith that leads souls to hell.

    Pope Eugene IV, in the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441, proclaimed ex cathedra: “The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire ‘which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her… No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”

    St. Irenaeus (130-202), Bishop and Martyr: “The Church is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them . . . . We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come . . . . Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons.”
    St. Augustine (354-430), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church. Outside the Catholic Church one can have everything except salvation. One can have honor, one can have sacraments, one can sing alleluia, one can answer amen, one can have faith in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and preach it too, but never can one find salvation except in the Catholic Church.”

    St. Fulgentius (468-533), Bishop: “Most firmly hold and never doubt that not only pagans, but also Jews, all heretics, and all schismatics who finish this life outside of the Catholic Church, will go into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

    Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604): “The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in Her and asserts that all who are outside of Her will not be saved.”

    St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226): “All who have not believed that Jesus Christ was really the Son of God are doomed. Also, all who see the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and do not believe it is really the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord . . . these also are doomed!”

    St. Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274), the Angelic Doctor: There is no entering into salvation outside the Catholic Church, just as in the time of the Flood there was not salvation outside the Ark, which denotes the Church.”

    St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716): “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Anyone who resists this truth perishes.”

    St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “Outside the Church there is no salvation…therefore in the symbol (Apostles Creed) we join together the Church with the remission of sins: ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins”…For this reason the Church is compared to the Ark of Noah, because just as during the deluge, everyone perished who was not in the ark, so now those perish who are not in the Church.”

    St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696-1787), Bishop and Doctor of the Church: “All the misfortunes of unbelievers spring from too great an attachment to the things of life. This sickness of heart weakens and darkens the understanding, and leads to eternal ruin. If they would try to heal their hearts by purging them of their vices, they would soon receive light, which would show them the necessity of joining the Catholic Church, where alone is salvation. We should constantly thank the Lord for having granted us the gift of the true Faith, by associating us with the children of the Holy Catholic Church … How many are the infidels, heretics, and schismatics who do not enjoy the happiness of the true Faith! Earth is full of them and they are all lost!”

    • All the saints you quoted were correct.

      The problem is that you cannot tell me that Billy Graham rejected the Catholic Church at the time of his judgment. Up until that judgment, “the jury is out” so to speak. God alone decides who is in the Catholic Church eternally and who obstinately remains without in the confines of Hell.

  6. The case of Leonard Feeney, S. J. is a complicated one. Here is a detailed analysis by Rev. William Most:

    About Rev. Most:

    From :

    The late Fr. William G. Most was one of the most distinguished Catholic teachers, theologians and Scripture scholars of our time. His long teaching career, extending well over 50 years, was marked by unswerving fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, theological brilliance, and an ability to communicate clearly to layman and professional alike.

  7. Ronald Sevenster

    Catholicism is something of the past that doesn’t exist anymore. At least, I don”t know any Cartholic who takes his religion serious, nor do I know what Catholcism stands for these days. But Billy Graham was serious about his commitment to Jesus Christ and I know what faith he stood for.

    • Count me as one who takes my faith very seriously. I have been a priest for almost 23 years and have met many, many, many serious Catholics.

      Besides the fact that seriousness of the faithful is no measure of the veracity of any faith. Whatever the faith (there can be only One and there is only One that claims to be true); it is true based on revelation and adherence to Natural Law.

      The God who made heaven and earth does not hide Himself. He has manifested Himself multiple times and in various ages.

  8. From your article: “A man who leads a good life and has the love of God in his heart, really belongs to the Church, and such a one is saved, not by his heresy, but by belonging to the Church.”

    I find that repugnant. I am not a member of the Roman church. I am a Lutheran. This is not the first time I’ve been told that I am really a Catholic unbeknownst to me. I also find repugnant the idea that I have to be Catholic to be saved. On the other hand, if you take the Lutheran definition of the invisible Church as being the body of Christ, to which all true believers belong, you are correct. But it’s not the Roman church. So it depends on how one understands what you wrote.

    “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Nothing about being a Catholic there, just believing in Jesus for salvation.

    Further I find it repugnant that one can earn salvation in whole or in part by good works.

    Lutherans have two sacraments or means of grace, and I have availed myself of both.

    I appreciate the even tone of your article. Some of the comments, not so much. I’ve heard that Rome no longer holds that you have to be specifically a member of the Roman church to be saved.

    Billy Graham’s eternal future is decided. No purgatory. I’d like to hope he is in heaven, but I have questions. So no canonization here. Only God knows the heart. That also applies to canonization within the Roman church.

    I believe God does provide for some people who never get to hear the gospel. But I don’t know in what way, or how common it is. I will have to leave that up to God.

    Just keep in mind, as I am sure you do, that not all of your readers are Catholic. The articles I have read have seemed reasonable enough. Keep up the good work. I don’t often agree with you, but you stand for something, and you describe it well.

  9. Billy Graham is in purgatory. Pray for the repose of his soul.

  10. Leroy Sheckelstein

    We don’t know if Billy Graham is in purgatory, but we do know the Athanasian Creed:

    “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly…”

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