When Donald Trump’s current overseas trip takes him to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis and other officials tomorrow, his choice to serve as ambassador to the Holy See will not be with him, since he just announced her nomination late last week. But you can expect Callista Gingrich’s appointment to serve as a topic for much informal conversation during the visit.
The former longtime House Ag Committee staffer, now the president of Gingrich Productions and the producer of patriotic kiddie books featuring (appropriately for a Republican) Ellis the Elephant, Gingrich could well make the Trump administration’s strange relationship with the Holy See a bit stranger. She is, well, not your typical Catholic diplomat, as the National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters notes:
[I]t is astonishing that a party that celebrates family values at every turn has a president who is on his third wife and who has bragged about his extramarital affairs and who is appointing an ambassador to the Vatican who had a six-year affair with her future husband while he was still married to his second wife. That is not a rumor: Mrs. Gingrich testified to that fact under oath during her husband’s divorce proceedings.
The circumstances of his conversion and their marriage will get some renewed media attention now. It is still a bit of a mystery how Newt and Callista managed to secure a church-based union in 2000. Apparently he was able to convince church authorities his second marriage was invalid under canon law because his second wife had been married before. It’s unclear how the first marriage got set aside, though it’s possible it was not solemnified in a church. That is moot now since his first wife — his former high-school math teacher — died in 2013.
Ms. Gingrich is also presumably the first ambassador to the Vatican who is an alumna of Luther College — which, as you might guess, is a Lutheran institution. She is actually a lifelong Catholic though; the Iowa school named after the greatest of heretics has a fine music program from which she benefited as a member of the choir at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where her performances apparently drew her then-paramour, the former Speaker of the House, toward the Catholic faith.
Perhaps the very first thing Callista Gingrich needs to establish during her confirmation hearings is that her appointment is not just some third-tier consolation prize for her husband in lieu of a serious gig in the Trump administration. It was not a very good sign when Kevin Williamson of the conservative (and traditionally Catholic-heavy) National Review opined that “going from clerk on the ag committee — a decade ago — to the Vatican” was a career trajectory even more unlikely than Trump’s.
But from the Vatican’s point of view the most awkward thing about the Gingriches may be their very public attachment to the brand of conservative papal guidance exemplified by Pope Francis’ predecessors St. John Paul II (about whom Gingrich Productions developed two films) and Benedict XVI. It’s no secret Francis has created profound dismay in the conservative Catholic circles that are the Gingriches’ habitat. And the president Callista Gingrich will represent in Rome has caused no little dismay at the Vatican. It does not help that late in his career her husband did a lot within the Republican Party to promote the very sort of hard-core conservative-nationalist policies that Francis appears to deplore.
Can the new U.S. envoy-designate smooth over these tensions, which will be in the spotlight when Trump and Francis meet on Wednesday? Perhaps, though if U.S.-Vatican conflicts spike, Ambassador Gingrich may again receive bad press mostly attributable to a difficult man with whom she is associated.