Callista Gingrich’s big stumbling block on her way to the Vatican
May 29, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – President Trump’s selection of Callista Gingrich as our next United States Ambassador to the Holy See was met with an uneasy, muted response from the Catholic world. Very few high-profile Catholics have gone on the record in praise of her nomination. At my suburban parish the announcement has elicited nothing more than shoulder shrugs.
I think I know why.
Before I admonish, I first need to describe my great admiration and affection for Newt and Callista.
I've met Callista just once, at a 2010 Washington DC showing of Nine Days that Changed the World, an inspiring documentary produced by Newt and Callista about Saint Pope John Paul II’s historic June 1979 return to Poland as Pontiff.
I've crossed paths with her husband more frequently. In January 1995, as recently minted adoptive parents, my wife and I testified before the United States House Ways and Means Committee in support of a provision in the Contract with America for a tax credit for adoptive families. The provision was passed into law a year later, making the financial burden of adoption—often an enormous, unbearable expense for young families—far more manageable.
Because of Newt’s efforts, many more couples were suddenly able to start families, and fewer children were trapped in foster care. And quite wonderfully, we were soon able to afford to adopt our second son.
Newt was a driving force behind this measure, and it was a pleasure to be able to meet and thank Speaker Gingrich after the measure became law.
A decade and a half later, I and about twenty other Tea Party group founders pitched our concerns and criticisms at Newt at a meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC in preparation for his 2012 presidential run. Once again, I was very grateful for Newt. He was the first DC politician to actually listen to and "get" the then nascent tea party movement.
And just last year I was proud to join Newt and Callista as one of the 150 or so Scholars and Writers for America supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Callista was instrumental in husband Newt’s surprise conversion to Catholicism. There must be something saintly about a woman who can influence a brilliant, iron-willed man like the former Speaker of the House. God used Callista in the working of a rather major Washington, DC miracle. And if in DC, why not the Vatican?
It is because of my great admiration and gratitude for the roles both Newt and Callista have played as Catholic politicos—touching my life in a very direct, personal way more than once—that I was at first stunned by the deafening silence greeting Callista’s nomination. The voices that did make themselves heard tended to be grumbling and downright snarky.
The Chokehold on Public Perception
So here’s the bottleneck choking off praise for Callista Gingrich’s nomination: While she is credited with having played an important role in her husband’s conversion to Catholicism, she is equally well known for having had a six year-long affair with Newt while he was married to another woman.
This is not a minor thing. It has a chokehold on public perception, throttling the flow of public expressions of goodwill. It will likely remain in place because American Catholics have never heard a single word of admission or, far more importantly, a word of repentance, about that affair.
And so since there is only silence on this topic, nobody can be sure if either Gingrich bears remorse for their actions twenty years ago.
It remains a large elephant in the room, an elephant that many would rather not ship off to Rome and take up residence in the office of the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican.
I have no doubt that both Newt and Callista have repented for this particular sin. I’m not talking about that.
This is perhaps one of those times when what is done in private needs to be shouted from the housetops, no matter what Washington, DC political consultants advise. Fair or unfair, perception is everything, and in this case the public perceives arrogance, not humility.
If Callista and Newt weren’t such highly visible public figures in the worlds of both politics and Catholicism, this could very well be a private matter. Catholic Americans—and many other Americans of all stripes—are uneasy with the idea of someone who wears a red letter A representing our country at the Vatican.
We Americans are an extremely forgiving bunch. We cheer for stories about redemption and lives turned around. If she were in the running, we would happily send Mary Magdalene off to the Vatican because her repentance from sin is not only well known, it inspires us.
And like the sinful woman who broke the alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet, the Gingrich story might have a similar power to inspire, but we have yet to hear it.
Before that will happen, like that woman in the Gospel, something—perhaps pride, perhaps shame—needs to be broken at the feet of Jesus.
A little humility would go a long way to win more enthusiastic support for Callista as Ambassador to the Vatican. And not only support, but heaps of praise and admiration.