This is not a question that many have seemed to consider since the praise for Billy Graham from Roman Catholics has been substantial. For instance, National Catholic Register reported:
In a statement on the archdiocesan website, Cardinal Dolan wrote that while his family was Catholic, there was a level of respect for Graham’s work in bringing people to Christ: “There was no question that the Dolans were a Catholic family, firm in our faith, but in our household there was always respect and admiration for Billy Graham and the work he was doing to bring people to God.”
He added, “As an historian, my admiration for him only grew as I studied our nation’s religious past and came to appreciate even more the tremendous role he played in the American evangelical movement. May the Lord that Billy Graham loved so passionately now grant him eternal rest.”
Cardinal Dolan’s sentiment was echoed by U.K. Catholic Herald editor Damian Thompson, who praised Graham’s evolution on Catholicism, as he “ended up acclaiming St. John Paul II as the world’s greatest witness to Christianity.” Thompson called Graham a “fine man, a powerful force for good.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered condolences to the Graham family and said that he was praying for the repose of his soul. Cardinal DiNardo praised Graham for his work spreading the Gospel around the country and said he was thankful for his ministry.
Father Dwight Longenecker also did not let differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics cloud his judgment of Graham:
[A]part from being the most famous evangelist of our age, he was also a model of Christian ministry. As such he is a model for all priests, pastors, popes and bishops.
I went on to become first an Anglican minister, and then a Catholic priest, but in that journey I have never turned my back on my good Evangelical upbringing. I have not denied all the good things from that Christian heritage–I have just added to them, and if I take any label at all it is that of an “Evangelical Catholic.”
Billy Graham was part of that foundation and he was a true Man of God.
That rivals in praise the estimate that came from Southern Baptists:
He carries with him to glory the multitudes of souls converted to Christ under his preaching. That is the greatest legacy one can leave.
But we have a wrinkle here, namely, the difference between the teaching of Protestants and Roman Catholics about how someone goes to heaven. Do believers have to go through purgatory before becoming sufficiently perfect to enter heaven, or do they as Graham believed trust Christ and go straight (bypassing Go) to heaven?According to the defenders of Roman Catholicism at EWTN, we should not expect anyone — let alone someone who has not participated in the sacramental ministry of Rome — to go to anywhere other than purgatory:
The reason why we have to pass through Purgatory after death is that we have committed sins and have not made satisfaction for them. Every individual sin must be expiated–in this life or the next! Not even the slightest shadow of sin or evil can enter the all-holy presence of God.
The graver, the more frequent the sins, the longer will be the period of expiation and the more intense the pain.
It is not God’s fault, nor God’s wish, that we go to Purgatory! The fault is all our own.
We have sinned and have not made satisfaction.
Even after our sin, God, in His infinite goodness, places at our disposal many easy and efficacious means by which we may considerably lessen our term of expiation, or even entirely cancel it.
Most Christians, with incomprehensible rashness, neglect these means and so have to pay their debts in the dreadful prison house of Purgatory.
Graham may have been a good man and a model of humility and integrity, but surely he was not sinless. Think Richard Nixon. So the best he could do apart from the sacraments of the church is land in purgatory.
Not to mention, that Rome has some specific concerns about Protestants taking the sacraments in Roman Catholic settings. To a recent proposal in Germany that the bishops allow for the communion of Protestants married to Roman Catholics to take communion, Cardinal Gerhard Müller pushed back:
In his new interview, Cardinal Müller insists that in the case that someone shares the Catholic Faith in the Eucharist – as a precondition for receiving Holy Communion – he also has to reject those teachings of non-Catholic communities that are opposed to it. He warns the German bishops not to deal, in their upcoming handout concerning intercommunion, “too loosely” with the theological principles that are involved in this matter. Otherwise, one might have to deal “with other undesired consequences” that could be drawn from this kind of approach. Cardinal Müller welcomes progress in the field of ecumenism as “desirable and necessary,” but insists this cannot lead toward a “protestantization of the Catholic Church.”
Which raises a question: how much praise for Graham and his ministry by Roman Catholics contributes to the protestantization of Rome? Can you have Billy Graham as a good Christian and Roman Catholicism as the true and correct version of Christianity? Aristotelian logic says “no.”