Callista Gingrich will be named the next American ambassador to the Vatican, according to multiple reports. The previous three Vatican ambassadors have been a former president of Catholic Relief Services, an academic specializing in systematic theology, and a professor at Harvard Law School. Gingrich, best known as the wife of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is the author of six children’s books about a patriotic elephant.
The appointment comes at a delicate time for the Trump administration’s relationship with the Holy See. Trump’s policies on issues including climate change, immigration, and refugees diverge strongly from Pope Francis’s priorities. Trump is scheduled to meet with the pope for the first time on May 24 at the Vatican. “Even if one thinks differently we have to be very sincere about what each one thinks,” the pope said on Monday, displaying his own diplomatic skills. “Topics will emerge in our conversations. I will say what I think and he will say what he thinks. But I have never wanted to make a judgment without first listening to the person.”
Gingrich’s main qualification for the job seems to be her marriage to one of President Trump’s earliest and most vigorous supporters. Other entries on her C.V. include a stint as a congressional aide in the 1990s; her current title is president of Gingrich Productions, which she runs with her husband. The company has made documentaries including one about Pope John Paul II, produced in partnership with the right-wing Citizens United Productions. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich’s Trump biography, Understanding Trump, which includes a “thorough analysis of how President Trump thinks and makes decisions,” will be published June 13, with a foreword by first son Eric Trump.
It is not just Callista Gingrich’s thin resume that makes her new appointment surprising. Her marriage to Newt Gingrich started as an affair. Callista herself testified under oath during her now-husband’s 1999 divorce proceedings that their relationship began in 1993, six years earlier. Their affair had been widely whispered about in Washington, with Vanity Fair archly referring to Callista as Newt’s “frequent breakfast companion” as early as 1995. In 1999, Newt apparently told his wife of 18 years, Marianne, that the marriage was over by phone, as she was celebrating her mother’s 84th birthday in Ohio. Marianne later told reporters that he then informed her he had been having an affair with Callista, and that he proposed an open marriage so he could keep seeing Callista without a divorce.
Callista’s scandalous past may be commonplace among the depraved “elites in Washington,” but it’s an unusual calling card for an ambassador to the world capital of Catholicism. “In the 1970s, things happened,” Newt Gingrich said in 1994, brushing off his failures of fidelity. “I start with an assumption that all human beings sin. So all I’ll say is that I’ve led a human life.” He was referring to his first marriage to his high-school geometry teacher, but at the time he was already having an affair with Callista. Newt told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2011 that his relationships sometimes suffered because he was working so hard, “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country.” He has never gone more than six months between divorce and remarriage.
Perhaps it’s unfair to pin all of this on Callista, a lifelong Catholic on her first marriage. She is an alto in the church choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a choir Newt has credited with inspiring him to convert to Catholicism in 2009. She also has a delightfully chipper Instagram feed, featuring many shots of her spectacular platinum hairdo. She seems like a perfectly nice lady, and ambassadorships have been doled out for less. Maybe we shouldn’t act surprised that President Trump sees no incompatibility between a casual approach to fidelity and access to power.
In this, of course, he may find himself at odds with the Pope, who wrote last year in his major encyclical on the family:
The lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person. For believers, it is also a covenant before God that calls for fidelity: “The Lord was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… Let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord.”