Oct. 19, 2009 — -- Miraculous cures for cancer and AIDS, people in wheelchairs getting up and dancing. It's business as usual for Benny Hinn, perhaps the world's most famous, successful and controversial televangelist. Hinn is a faith-healer who almost never grants interviews -- until now.
"I'll try to explain it to you," said Hinn in a wide-ranging interview with ABC's "Nightline." "The anointing, which is God's power, comes on me. ... I can actually feel it. And people start getting healed. 'From the cancer, the pain is gone. ... I was sitting on my wheelchair and I can walk now,' such things like that."
Hinn took questions about disillusioned followers and about the U.S. senator who is investigating him. The questions clearly dismayed Hinn's handlers.
He was born Toukif Benedictus Hinn to a Greek Orthodox Christian family living in Israel. As a child, he moved with his family to Canada, where he became an extremely devout evangelical. In his 20's, Hinn moved to Florida, where he married a preacher's daughter -- and then went into the family business.
Hinn said he realized early on that something extraordinary was happening.
"In fact, I was shocked, really I was, when people came up to me claiming they were healed back in the 70s," he said. "And the crowds grew. Uh to, goodness, we would have 2,000 or 3,000 show up on Monday nights. And then the word spread."
Hinn's ministry exploded. Within a few years, he was traveling the world, preaching to millions of people. In the early '90s, he started a television show, which now airs in more than 200 countries. Along the way, he has made a series of truly extraordinary claims.
In one video clip on YouTube, he said he had seen a dead man resurrected.
"Well, Ghana. It was in Akra, Ghana," Hinn explained to "Nightline." "I didn't exactly ... I had no proof he was dead. That's what they told me. They laid him on the platform, and at one point he got up. But that's not the question, the question is, can God raise the dead? Yes or no? And the answer is yes. He has. It's in the Bible, so if God did it then, why shouldn't he do it today?"
"I'm not gonna give you the exact amount, but it's, uh, over a half-million."
Hinn said he'd like to cut his salary to zero.
"Let me just tell you this, my aim in life is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that's all I care about," said Hinn. "And if somebody comes along, or if there's a way where I can be completely taken care of financially, I won't let the ministry pay me a cent. I'll make you a deal. Right here on camera. Let 'em all see me do this with you. If somebody comes along and says, 'OK Benny Hinn, I'm gonna help you financially so you can pay your own bills,' or if I can do it on my own and get a job and do something on the side like I'm doing now, it would be a pleasure."
"Nightline" asked Hinn whether he ever had moments, when people are writing out checks to him or filling out cards with their credit card information, that he thinks the people can't afford it, they're doing it because they're desperate and that he shouldn't take this money.
"If I was fake I would absolutely give them back their money," said Hinn, "but I believe that God called me to preach the gospel which is very important."
Grassley's office said that Hinn has cooperated fully with the investigation into whether Hinn and other televangelist are using the tax-free donations they collect appropriately. The senator has not yet released the results of his investigation.
"The senator himself says we gave them more information than he thought we would," said Hinn.But when "Nightline" asked for the same information, Hinn said the ministry could not turn it over because "we have an agreement with the senator to keep things confidential."After the interview, Grassley's office told ABC News that Hinn is free to release any information he wants. But the ministry said it didn't have time to edit out personal information from its donors in time for "Nightline"'s broadcast. And therefore the ministry turned over nothing.
But Hinn said he was glad to get the chance to answer his skeptics.
"The questions [you] asked me, I've wanted someone to ask me for the last 20 years of my life," Hinn told me. "I think what this man did is fantastic and thank you for doing it. No, really, I'm very pleased. ... because it's time for me to tell it all. I don't want people talking for me. I want to talk for myself."