Newt Gingrich on why he became a Catholic

Newt GingrichI saw this in the Seattle Post Intelligencer but it goes back to a piece Newt Gingrich wrote for the National Catholic Register about why he joined the Catholic Church.   I think it is interesting that the secular MSM  picked it up.

Two things about this struck me as interesting.

First, what the former Speaker of the House describes as the shape of his conversion experience is rather close to my own experience.  I too came to a realization that I had to embrace formally what I had come to believe intellectually.  Also there was an affective dimension which needed to be triggered.  Furthermore, there is the element of music.  During what began as a purely intellectual inquiry into what Catholics believe, the sly old fisherman Msgr. Richard Schuler invited me, at the time a musician, to sing in the choir.  That got me in the door and participating at Mass, which helped both the intellective and the affective components of my slow conversion.

Secondly, Mr. Gingrich points to something that is a constant theme for me when speaking from the pulpit or giving advice to people about how to deal with friends or relatives who have fallen away from the Catholic Church or who are perhaps showing some interest the the Church: demonstrate joy.  Joy is attractive.  People what to know what works for others.  When they see you are happy as a Catholic, they may want to get closer to that source your your happiness for their own sake.  What will not work with others is gloom.

I am pretty sure that if Mr. Ginrich’s wife Callista had been all long-face all the time about her faith, his conversion would not have been nearly as prompt, his willingness to go through the process of sorting out their marriage situation wouldn’t have been as generous.

And to head some people who will have a knee-jerk reaction to the name Newt Gingrich, and the fact that he wasn’t perfect in years past, I would remind you that you too are sinners who made mistakes and, hopefully, have tried to correct your lives.   The Church is not a museum of perfect beings.  It is more like a hospital for the sick and wounded where they can be healed and emerge the happier for their past challenges.

Gingrich: Why I became a Catholic

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Catholic convert, is making faith a major cornerstone of his embryonic presidential campaign, and credits third wife Callista for his conversion.

Gingrich has penned a piece for National Catholic Register explaining his spiritual journey from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic.  He is also crediting Pope Benedict XVI for “a moment of confirmation.

“I am often asked when I chose to become Catholic,” Gingrich wrote.  “However, it is more truthful to say that over the course of several years I gradually became Catholic and then decided one day to accept the faith I had already come to embrace.

“My wife, Callista, is a lifelong Catholic and has been a member of the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for 15 years.  Although I was Southern Baptist, I had attended Mass with Callista every Sunday at the Basilica to watch her sing with the choir.

Gingrich became involved with Callista, a House aide, while still married to his second wife Marianne.  The House Speaker was at the time traveling the country denouncing President Clinton’s moral behavior.  He and Callista were married in 2000.

Gingrich writes, a well, of seeing Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff toured the United States in 2008.  The pope celebrated a large open-air mass in Washington, D.C.

“Catching a glimpse of Pope Benedict that day, I was struck by the happiness and peacefulness he exuded,” Gingrich wrote.  “The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things I had been thinking and experiencing for several years.”

“That evening, I told Msgr. Rossi I wanted to be received into the Catholic Church, and he agreed to join Callista as my sponsor.  Under his tutelage I studied the Catechism of the Church over the next year and was received into the Church in March of 2009 in a beautiful Mass at St. Joseph’s on Capitol Hill.”

Gingrich is one of several prominent American conservatives to join the Catholic Church.

The list includes the late columnist Robert Novak, Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman, and former New York gubernatorial candidate Lewis Lehrman.

The NaturalConversion stories are fascinating.  Converts and reverts to the Church all have interesting tales to tell.  They often have similar elements even though they are unique.

There is a phrase from a really bad book by Bernard Malamud which was turned into one of the best baseball movies ever made, The Natural. One of Roy Hobbs redemptive characters, the woman he loved when he was young, before he made stupid and life-changing mistakes, said to him that we have two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live afterward.

I suspect many of us resonate with that.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Okay, he “credits third wife Callista for his conversion,” and “became involved with Callista, a House aide, while still married to his second wife Marianne.” I can only assume that Callista experienced deep regret from this experience, and thus persuaded Newt to do the same. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt because I don’t know. But I do know that most us who would be guilty of this (especially if we had done it twice) wouldn’t be a regular on the Catholic celebrity circuit, but would be compelled to maintain a low profile.

    But hey, that’s just me.

  2. Centristian says:

    “And to head some people who will have a knee-jerk reaction to the name Newt Gingrich, and the fact that he wasn’t perfect in years past, I would remind you that you too are sinners who made mistakes and, hopefully, have tried to correct your lives. The Church is not a museum of perfect beings. It is more like a hospital for the sick and wounded where they can be healed and emerge the happier for their past challenges.”

    I’m no Newt fan, but I can certainly second that. I’ve been a Catholic my whole life, and if the Church is a hospital, I’m still in the ER.

  3. The Egyptian says:

    to add to my friend with the black hat

    OK, until his next divorce. [This is precisely the sort of remark I hoped I would not see.]

    Always found it funny, divorced several time, convert to Catholicism, all is forgiven, seen it twice before, didn’t last, at least when the remarriage is so soon after the divorce, one when the divorce was years in the past, it lasted 25 years, till his death

  4. wmeyer says:

    To the less charitable here, I can only suppose that both Gingriches, on the way to convalidation of their marriage were required to make a good confession. What part of forgiveness is being overlooked here?

    As to the MSM picking it up (at last) I am inclined to suspect–we are talking MSM, after all–that their supposition is to render Gingrich less attractive to voters because of his faith.

  5. Fr. Basil says:

    I’m sure that Newt will be just as faithful to his present wife as he was to his previous two wives. [Infra dignitatem.]

  6. Martial Artist says:

    … “we have two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live afterward”.

    Amen, Father.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. Wendy says:

    No, Mr. ManWithABlackHat, it is not just you.

    How much time was spent recently as the blogosphere debated whether it was okay to misrepresent oneself in order to shut down an abortuary? “Oh Noes, we can’t do that! We can’t do evil to produce good!”

    And now we have (and it will be noted) Ms. Callista-the-Catholic, who joyfully disregarded the 6th Commandment.

    The angels may rejoice (as I do; however, (I am told) I am incredibly naive), but for those of us in the Church Militant, stand by for a new round of moaning and debate.

  8. cyejbv says:

    Sheesh, is sarcasm necessary or edifying ?! I just finished reading the Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ… not to sound simplistic, but I bet Our Lord is pleased with Mr. Gingrich’s conversion.

    But hey, that’s just me.

  9. Brad says:

    Those basilica choir singers will steal yo’ man!

  10. BLB Oregon says:

    Talking about one’s conversion is a good thing, and it can inspire many others. So far, so good.

    I am concerned for him if he really is, as the Intelligencer put it, “making faith a major cornerstone of his embryonic presidential campaign”. A presidential campaign is not the best medium of growth for a new faith to gain deep roots. I would not wish a presidential campaign on a saint, excepting that it is a duty that one has to hope someone good will take on. I have great concern when it is taken on by someone new in his conversion.

    It is the nature of contemporary American politics to encourage falsity and to discourage not only time for reflection and prayer, but any honest admission of one’s faults and failings. It is an exhausting exercise in the production and promotion of a false self, a false self that must be vehemently defended from ill-meant attacks coming from every side. Throwing elbows in this ballgame of falseness has been a source of great temptation for Mr. Gingrich in the past. He has been publicly called out on some very big fouls. He will undoubtedly get the treatment he has dealt out in the past. It bodes ill that his new Catholic identity figures too strongly in the construction of this new false self, this work of advertisers. He is going to hear the World, the Flesh, and the Devil bait him…”If you are the Son of God…” It isn’t inevitable, but I fear that this could forestall many opportunities for grace for him.

    This tidbit from the Screwtape Letters (Letter XIII) demonstrates what I mean:
    “A repentance and renewal of what the other side call “grace” on the scale which you describe is a defeat of the first order. It amounts to a second conversion—and probably on a deeper
    level than the first. …
    “…It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”

    Who wants a Catholic in the White House, if getting the office threatens to keep him out of Heaven?

  11. benedetta says:

    I am never really satisfied with the terminology since I feel that conversion is ongoing, for all. But I really like hearing about different people’s paths. Some before adult baptism into the faith or conversion have lead exemplary lives already imbued with virtue and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But in times such as they are, most who convert or revert have come to the faith through much struggle and weakness. No human being leads a life of total perfection and is not in need of communion with God. I wonder if one sent around this story to people with his name deleted whether reactions would be different. It’s tough for people in public office nowadays is it not, no matter one’s political persuasion. I don’t know how many of us would be able to maintain leadership while under such constant scrutiny.

    More than ever though we need Catholic leaders in all political affiliations, on every level.

    They did not interview Mrs. Gingrich however perhaps she too experienced a process of conversion or renewal through witnessing her husband’s acceptance of the faith.

    I also liked reading about the conversion experience of the sitcom comedy writer Tom Leopold along with his wife and children.

    For each conversion story such as this published by the msm, I take back all the sly things I said about them…Maybe our friends in the msm truly would like to believe…

  12. thickmick says:

    That’s cool. I did not know that! Great piece, Father. Now if we could just get Rush on board…HAil Mary, etc…

  13. Banjo pickin girl says:

    There is nothing about my life that is exemplary. I hope everybody else does better and I expect they will. I don’t know about all the politics stuff but it is a very dirty business, dogs, fleas, all that. How can one be immersed in that culture and remain even halfway faithful if I am surrounded by saints daily and am a real @#$# ? They would have to be a saint to begin with I guess.

  14. Just to clarify …

    With respect to any past transgressions on the party or parties in question, my intention was to put my “knee-jerk” reaction aside (and I admit I had one), and give the couple the benefit of the doubt. That we are or are not perfect beings was never my bone of contention.

    Someone once said, “God always forgives, man sometimes forgives, nature never forgives.” Our actions have consequences, and no amount of contrition can always remove them. If, for example, someone nominated me to the Knights of Columbus as “Family Man of the Year,” my efforts to be a father to my son under impossible circumstances, and that his mother divorced me against my wishes, would not change the fact that I am divorced, period, and thus not an effective model worthy of an award.

    Our past may be our prologue, but I believe that it is possible for public figures to earn a sort of “get out of jail free” card, when their presence can serve another purpose, such as lending credence to a cause we would champion. Such latitude is commonplace in a town like Washington. I don’t know if it would play in Peoria.

  15. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Benedetta, yes, nonbelievers would like to believe, the ones who are most vocally atheist and blasphemous are the ones who are most searching and the ones who fall for our Lord down the slippery slope most violently. Let’s catch ’em with our nets at the bottom!

  16. michael_e says:

    I don’t want to be interpreted on passing any sort of judgment on Mr Gingrich’s past life, etc, but I have to admit to having been thoroughly confused, based on what I was always taught regarding the sacrament, as to what made it possible for him to marry his current wife in the Catholic Church. Since he and his first two wives were in both cases baptized Christians, neither the Pauline nor the Petrine Privileges apply, and the Church considers those marriages to be sacramental and insoluble, am I right? I trust there is a reason that the Church permitted the marriage, so can someone with more knowledge of this subject please enlighten me.

  17. Peggy R says:

    I believe I must give the Gingriches the benefit of the doubt knowing they had to make good confessions and set their marriage right with the Church as he converted. I don’t have to vote for him for president, however, because of that.

    On Mr. Gingrich’s observation of the joy, I have to tell you that that was a very remarkable thing I saw in the faces and heard in the voices of a group of Regnum Christi laity I met in DC Metro in the late 90s. [Their joy at being happily Catholic of course is very sad to me today as we all have learned since how deceived they were by Maciel, but that’s another story.] I had returned to the faith but a couple years then. I was very inspired by their finding such joy in being Catholic and living faithful Catholic lives. I never joined RC; I’m not a joiner, but that was powerful witness to me nonetheless. I didn’t recall much joy in being Catholic as a child. Actually, the Church wasn’t the problem.

  18. I am concerned that people who, from one side of their mouths, will say that people must recognize past mistakes, convert, and even become Catholics, will also say, from the other side of their mouths, that past mistakes should forever be held against them.

    It smacks of Donatism, which is an ugly thing of which to smack.

    Furthermore, if a person receives a judgment from a diocesan tribunal about the status of a previous marriage, and provided he told the truth about the circumstances surrounding that marriage, then that person can move forward in life in good faith.

  19. New Sister says:

    It’s not only Donatism, Father, but also points to a serious misunderstanding of “Marriage.”

    The Church judged Speaker Gingrich’s former unions to be objectively wrong – i.e., no marriage existed. Catholics who believe in the Sacraments should rejoice over his conversion AND his exodus from these invalid unions.

  20. Animadversor says:

    Some find it hard themselves to be accept forgiveness and hence find it hard to see others accept it.

  21. michael_e says:

    I am very happy that Mr Gingrich has found joy in the Church!! Like I said, I didn’t want my confusion to be interpreted as a judgment of any sort, because it wasn’t. I just remember being very confused about the subject when I first read about it way back when and at the time couldn’t find any sources that mentioned annulment. I trusted Mother Church knew what she was doing, but was just unclear as to what the details were. Thanks to those who cleared that up for me.

  22. Jack007 says:

    If I am not mistaken, at least one of his former wives is deceased.
    I also am not much of a Newt fan, but realize that my Church has spoken. So I will resist all temptations of cynicism as best I can.
    Not easy, but…

    Fr. Basil, I must echo Fr. Z. Its one thing for me to publicly SAY something uncharitable like that, but I don’t have a “Fr.” in front of my name. Yes, as a priest you ARE held to a higher standard. Dignitas indeed.
    Now, thinking it privately…

    Jack in KC

  23. AJP says:


    If I remember correctly, here is how Gingrich’s 3 marriages played out.

    He married wife 1 (I don’t know her name)
    They divorce.
    While wife 1 was still alive, he marries wife 2 (also forgot her name, but this is the woman who he divorced while she had cancer).
    Given that wife 1 was still alive, Gingrich’s marriage to wife 2 was invalid from the start.
    Eventually Gingrich and wife 2 divorce. At some point (don’t know when) wife 1 dies.
    Gingrich marries wife 3, Callista.

    I’m assuming that this third marriage presented not much canonical difficulty since as far as the Church is concerned, Gingrich was only married once before – to wife 1. Once she died, Gingrich was free to remarry. The fact that wife 2 was still alive when he married Callista doesn’t invalidate it because Newt and wife2 were never validly married in the first place.

    That’s all I know of it. I have no idea where his meeting of Callista fits into the timeline of his separation from wife2 and the death of the first wife. I have no idea how many of that might affect the canonical issues. I assume that whatever issues there were, whatever sins needed to be confessed, and the like, this was all taken care of by Newt, Callista, and their priest.

  24. Eoin Suibhne says:

    This is timely for me, as I attended this morning’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at which Mr. Gingrich was an honored speaker. He gave a brief account of his conversion story, but focused primarily on a new movie about JPII with which he and his wife are very involved. I welcome him and his wife to the Church and wish them every blessing.

    “But Father,” I am asking — specifically about Mr. Gingrich “mov[ing] forward in life in good faith” — is it really prudent for him to be “on the circuit” as he is? In the past was it not the norm for such a public figure to first – if not for the rest of one’s life – spend a period of penance and reparation far away from public life? Is there not some aspect of scandal involved here? I ask this in all sincerity.

  25. Eoin:

    My point exactly.

  26. Animadversor says:

    Sorry, my post ought to have read:

    Some find it hard themselves to accept forgiveness and hence find it hard to see others accept it.

  27. Dave N. says:

    I think because Mr. Gingrich’s prior transgressions were so public, in this particular case there may be some additional information due the public about his amendment of purpose–and I guess he is arguably providing that.

    I don’t think we can ever assume that the diocesean tribunal operated in bad faith absent any evidence about the specifics. As several have noted, Mr. Gingrich’s first wife died, so the (apparent) annulment of his second marriage is not very far-fetched.

  28. RichR says:

    Eoin Suibhne says: In the past was it not the norm for such a public figure to first – if not for the rest of one’s life – spend a period of penance and reparation far away from public life?


    FrZ said in OP:Furthermore, there is the element of music.

    I think there is already an element of penance the former Speaker is enduring as he travels the country with his JPII movie, Nine Days That Changed The World. He’s experiencing the horror of the Catholic liturgical music scenery outside of the great Basilica his wife sings for.

  29. JKnott says:

    This is a providential post for me: an answer to a family query as recently as Easter.
    My youngest nephew is seriously considering marrying a girl who is not Catholic. She is a non practicing Lutheran girl from Minnesota. True :) The other nephew and niece and their large homeschooled families are all strong Catholics. Some are wondering if, how or when the nephew will approach the religion issue with the new prospective bride. . My nephew hasn’t asked her to attend Mass with him yet but, all in all, the points you made Father on the intellectual and affective as well as the joy are important. I am sending this to the family.
    Deo Gratias.
    And as for Newt. …”The Church is not a museum of perfect beings. It is more like a hospital for the sick and wounded where they can be healed and emerge the happier for their past challenges.”
    Great commentary all around! Thank you Father Z

  30. BLB Oregon says:

    “….“But Father,” I am asking — specifically about Mr. Gingrich “mov[ing] forward in life in good faith” — is it really prudent for him to be “on the circuit” as he is? In the past was it not the norm for such a public figure to first – if not for the rest of one’s life – spend a period of penance and reparation far away from public life? Is there not some aspect of scandal involved here? I ask this in all sincerity.” —

    If I am not mistaken, Father would be in a Catch-22 if he tried to extrapolate from general principles and ranges of possibilities to this specific case. Either he would lack knowledge to answer concerning Mr. Gingrich’s specific case or else Mr. Gingrich would have placed him in a position of confidence and he could not comment. Besides, we don’t need to know the specific case. Only the general answers are needed, in case we face a similar question in our own lives.

  31. Oleksander says:

    too bad many Catholics didnt and do not give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt

  32. anna 6 says:

    I think that it is beautiful that his conversion was influenced by Benedict XVI’s trip to the US, and “the joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father”. They call this the “Benedict Effect”, and people like Gingrich are especially susceptible because politics aside, the candidate is regarded by most to be an intellectual. The pope’s style of evangelization can really get under their skin…

    I wish them well.

  33. anilwang says:

    Father, I agree, but a distinction needs to be made.

    Just because you forgive, does not mean you should trust….trust has to be earned…especially in a presidential campaign.

    And there are consequences even when there is forgiveness. There’s purgatory, and even though people who denied the Church repented and were forgiven in the Donatist controversy, there was a fairly long and tough period of penance.

    We need to celebrate Newt’s conversion and forgive him as we would any prodigal son, and we might even choose give him the benefit of the doubt and trust that his conversion is complete and he’s made all necessary reparations and penance, but we mustn’t look down on people who are a bit more guarded in their trust.

  34. Mike says:

    I think his conversion deserves the benefit of the doubt. However, the outrageous falsity of American Presidential politics is partly to blame, I think, for the cynical attitudes surrounding this issue and person.

    One more point: As Aristotle reminds us, “ethos” is a large part of rhetoric, and one’s past is one’s past. The American electorate is not as forgiving as the Good Lord.

    And perhaps rightly so.

    (I happen to like Newt; he’s smart and able on the stump, btw.)

  35. Mike says:

    For example, politics aside, I find it simply amazing that John Edwards got as far as he did.

  36. Denis says:

    I wonder whether the negative reaction to this story might have to do with the impression that Mr. and Mrs. Gingrich got preferential treatment, in regularizing their marital status. It’s his third marriage, for Pete’s sake! That just seems…less than typical. It’s not the forgiveness part–it’s safe to assume that they received absolution for the adultery–but the appearance (and it may be nothing more) that the usually strict canon law on marriage wasn’t applied very strictly in this case.

  37. JonM says:

    If Mr. Gingrich did not endorse a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual candidate for US House immediately after his conversion, I would be more sympathetic. In point of information, the alternative was pro-life with a solid career in accounting.

    My understanding is that in the old rite, converts would have to vocally and explicitly state allegience to the Church and disown any error previously held. A completely reasonable requirement, it clarifies to onlookers (and the convert) that one is accepting the Faith inviolate, not the Faith accepting the person as he wills.

    High profile figures attract attention and therefore have to be held to the highest standards. The fact is, without any requirement for public penance (something as simple as “I was selfish, living for myself, and wrong.”) it makes the Church look like it does not really believe in the sanctity of marriage.

    Furthermore, this is not the first time Newt Gingrich has changed religions. I’m not saying that one can’t go from Lutheranism to being a Baptist to the Catholic Church. But, really. We are talking about politicians (in this case one with a clear history of serious moral lapses) and conversions just before a major campaign.

    It would be naive to not other motivations, however slight the chances might be, and not require an explicit rejection of past error. Father Z has covered extensively the various practices that used to be in place for converts and the rich symbolism to these rituals.

    Again, with politician converts like Tony Blair and Newt Gingrich, when I see the cafateria mentality, I cannot get excited in any positive manner.

    From direct, personal experience, I can attest that those who are seeking deliverance through our political process are woefully misguided. Until we shape a political system that applies salus populi, suprema lex, I wouldn’t bother with the political game.

  38. jamie r says:

    There’s a distinction that should be drawn here. Due to the public nature of marriage, as well as the public nature of Mr. Gingrish’s many offenses against marriage, it would be legitimate for a Catholic to hold these things against him with regards to his status as a public figure and statesman. On the other hand, it would be donatist to hold these things against him with regards to his status as Catholic or with regards to the efficacy of the sacraments as received by him.

    I.e., I don’t think it’s inconsistent to be happy that another soul has found the Church while holding that Newt’s numerous public offenses against matrimony render him untrustworthy and not morally fit to be a statesman

  39. JonM says:

    Regarding Newt Gingrich’s marriage situation.

    His first marriage wasn’t an issue for the tribunal because his wife died of cancer. His second wife herself had been previously married and so the marriage tribunal determined this rendered Newt Gingrich’s second marriage void.

    This does not mean for the sake of common decency and to prevent scandal he should have been given a pass on a public profession of faith and admission of previous error.

  40. AnAmericanMother says:

    I have no opinion on Newt Gingrich as a Catholic, nor on the state of his soul.

    However, he was my U.S. representative for many years.

    I would not vote for him for dogcatcher. He is not trustworthy and has no courage of his convictions – he’s just a weathervane. As somebody said of James G. Blaine (the continental liar from the state of Maine), let him return to the private life he is so eminently fitted to adorn.

  41. avecrux says:

    I guess God’s grace can only save nobodies from little transgressions….????
    Folks: God can work miracles, and high profile converts can serve his glorious purposes – even IN THE PUBLIC EYE. Thanks be to God Bernard Nathanson did not retire to a hermitage (although he did plenty of penance).

  42. Gail F says:

    Don’t like the man’s politics; would never vote for him. That said, when I heard last year (or the year before?) that he had entered the Church, I had to put that aside and think, Welcome! The Church is for all sinners, not SOME sinners but not THOSE sinners. Now, if he goes all Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, I will not be pleased… But otherwise, I will certainly give him the benefit of the doubt — but keep my eye on him! That’s prudence. I am glad when anyone converts, and gladder still when they keep converting.

  43. tzard says:

    I wonder if part of the Catholic culture we’ve lost is also our sense of sin. Not just what is sinful, but how sin and forgiveness weaves in and out of our lives – and learning how that would also apply to others.

    If someone were to go to frequent confession, should they not eventually develop a taste for how carrying one’s cross works, and how we fall and pick ourselves up again. To such a person, should it be scandalous that someone, anyone (even a public figure) has sinned in the past?

    How should we think as Catholics?

  44. ContraMundum says:

    We’ve been though this before recently, with Anne Rice. Remember the fawning over what great contributions she was going to make to the Church, etc.?

    Look, let’s say I were a noticeably overweight celebrity and I announced my reasons for going on a diet: one I had been on for 36 hours already! What would that mean? If I stay on it for 3 or 4 months, maybe it would mean something, but 36 hours?

    Or, if you like, suppose your son goes off to college as a freshman pre-med student. Do you start bragging about the doctor he will one day be, or do you wait until he passes organic chemistry?

    Gingrich is in the equivalent of the first week of a diet. It’s good news, if indeed it is news, but he has yet to show that he can overcome temptation. He’s been out of politics; when he’s back in politics and compromises have to be made, where will he draw the line — with protecting taxpayers, or with protecting the unborn? If he were to find himself on the campaign circuit and away from his wife, surrounded by the groupies and sycophants who attach themselves to front-running candidates, would he remain faithful this time?

    Let’s just wait and see. Basically, let’s go back to 1 Timothy 3 and apply a good portion of those qualifications (whether for deacon or bishop or whatever) to anyone who might be thought of as a potential Catholic celebrity — notably “Not a neophyte: lest being puffed up with pride, he fall into the judgment of the devil.”

  45. benedetta says:

    I agree with tzard. And, we could also as Catholics remain open to discovering, where now with the benefit of sacramental grace, the proposals he makes for our public policy could lead. Do we deny that people might make radical changes in their lives after experience of conversion and recourse to the grace that the sacraments offer? That these could alter the way one views the world, the difficulties and how government can support its people? Even in the case of a politician (I know, we are jaded, we are cynical, we doubt it highly, from any politician in these times) conversion means, not nothing at all. Remember a lot of talk during the days of the impeachment scandal of the Clinton administration of the notion of prominent politicians doing something called “compartmentalizing”. Fancy word. Do we doubt that conversion and the life of the sacraments can unify all of our compartments such that with all of our previous gifts, talents and weaknesses we can lead and make choices from new, fresh eyes?

    I am not a Newtonian apologist…but I don’t think we should deny that grace can be at work in people, whether their flaws and mistakes are known publicly, or not. He could very well have said to his wife to be, “I’m not joining your faith” and he could very well have come into the faith at her request yet kept the faith at arm’s length. I don’t hear that in this article.

    And if other statesmen can say that their faith informs their leadership, then why can’t he.

  46. ckdexterhaven says:

    I’m not surprised that Pope Benedict’s joy (in the 2008 trip) had such an influence on Newt. I have never “felt” and appreciated joy through the tv like I did during Pope Benedict’s trip. I think Pope Benedict touched George W. Bush and Rush Limbaugh as well. (and countless others)

    Newt is no dummy, he knew very well when he wrote that letter in the NCR what people would say about him and his past sins. I’m sure if we went on a liberal leaning blog, the complaints would be just as nasty as the ones on here.

    I’m happy for him that he has embraced The Church.

  47. Kerry says:

    I’m OK with Newt, but what about that danged Petrus fellow??!!!!! The Rock! Ha! Don’t make me guffaw. T’wern’t twenty minutes after Christ’s arrest and the ‘Rock’ is crumbled into talc. And then He goes an’ makes him head of the Church on earth.

  48. Papabile says:

    I would like to cut the speaker some slack, as I really do believe in the efficacy of the Sacraments.

    I am a little annoyed with the article for making a very misleading statement about the Speaker.

    “Gingrich became involved with Callista, a House aide, while still married to his second wife Marianne. The House Speaker was at the time traveling the country denouncing President Clinton’s moral behavior. He and Callista were married in 2000. “

    If one goes back and looks at the public record, Gingrich never went after Clinton’s personal sexual morals. He simply went after the issue of Clinton lying under oath.

    I have always wondered if this was his conscience in some way speaking that he best not comment on someone else’s infidelities when he had his own with a junior Agriculture Appropriations staffer?

    In any case, the Speaker left the condemnatory language to others.

  49. ndmom says:

    The state of his soul is between him and God. The question of his fitness for public office is another story, and it’s entirely reasonable for voters to take all of his background into consideration. I would be much more impressed if his conversion had inspired him to devote his talents to an organization aimed at, say, encouraging men in public office to be faithful to their marriage vows.

  50. Dorcas says:

    Fr, you make the point that: “I am pretty sure that if Mr. Ginrich’s wife Callista had been all long-face all the time about her faith, his conversion would not have been nearly as prompt, his willingness to go through the process of sorting out their marriage situation wouldn’t have been as generous.”

    Well, maybe she would have been a bit more long-face if she had any appreciation of her sinful situation. She was not living a holy life, was essentially CINO…of course it is easy show joy when you are in love, and have no regard for sin. If she was truly living her faith, she would have had little cause for happy feelings, given that she was living in adultery.

    Please say a prayer for all those who were unable to enter the church this Easter because their irregular marriages were unable to be rectified like this man’s was.

  51. lgreen515 says:

    Falling in love with church music eventually led to falling in love with the church, for me.

  52. Sliwka says:

    Father et al. I would like to comment on something different than the thread of comments has gone, and that is on your first point of Catholic conversions. I began my Christian life, after a Universalist stance, as a pretty unofficial Evangelical Protestant–though with troubling questions that could not be answered. After many months (years even) of study into the beleifs and practices of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches plus the various Protestant communities, I was resolved to become Catholic. I find that those who study the Church will come to believe the Church.

    I think we can also add Bl. John Henry Newman to the list of those whose conversion was at least inpart influenced by rigourous study.

  53. LorrieRob says:

    Before Newt’s public moral failures, I was a great fan. After his moral failures, I continue to believe he contributes to public debate. I am very happy for him to convert to Catholicism for his own sake. However, his public moral failures and those of his wife and lack of public contrition have always been troubling to me since they seek to be public figures. In our culture with the great lack of understanding of marriage, I can appreciate that the Church needs a way to help people reconcile this aspect of their life if they have entered marriage without understanding. The Church affirms marriage with its process of annulment where appropriate and obviously has liberalized the process in reaction to the reality of our times. Since I’m not sure what you do with out current situation, I trust the Church to work out how best to handle this increasingly difficult issue with a process that at least requires external scrutiny by the Church authority. Newt will never get my vote…well, it would depend who the alternative was…but I always appreciate hearing his viewpoints.

  54. donantebello says:

    If we sat and waited for all contributors to be absolutely mess free we wouldn’t have half of western civilization.

  55. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Of course the state of his soul is between him and God. That’s not the point. The point is whether someone of his stature and checkered past should be exposing himself in a very public manner as a newly minted Catholic “in good standing.”

    Again – to be clear – I readily acknowledge that he and his wife have set themselves aright with God. It is an issue of humility and prudence, not one of the state of their status in the eyes of God.

  56. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Case in point: some comments on some stories on Mr. Gingrich’s appearance at this morning’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast:

    “Wow, you’ve been a Catholic for 2 years and now you want to tell me about religion in America? Come back in 29 years you blow hard.”

    “What a blow hard!. You blame your love of America for causing you to cheat. Go give your ill gotten wealth to the poor, then maybe you can lecture us on faith.”

    “And HOW did he get his marriage sanctioned by the church? Leaving your cancer-stricken wife for a younger babe shouldn’t be grounds for an annulment!”

    These are typical comments on many blogs and news stories. Of course they are uncharitable. My concern is that someone in his situation would – should – have known that such comments would pour forth from the general public. Would it not have been more prudent for Mr. Gingrich to eschew public life for awhile before engaging in a public life as a Catholic? Not to protect himself, but to protect Mother Church and his fellow Catholics from the inevitable “bad press.”?

  57. Mother says:


  58. ContraMundum says:

    I am concerned that people who, from one side of their mouths, will say that people must recognize past mistakes, convert, and even become Catholics, will also say, from the other side of their mouths, that past mistakes should forever be held against them.

    It smacks of Donatism, which is an ugly thing of which to smack.

    To quote Ulysses Everett McGill, “That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nose.” The temporal effects of our past deeds, good or evil, still somewhat remain. Delmar was facing a long sentence; Gingrich is facing a long period of well-earned mistrust.

    If I remember correctly, the Donatists did not believe that apostates (or, notably, adulterers) could be restored to communion even after a lengthy penance, consisting of several years during which the penitents were required to attend Mass but had to remain prostrate the whole time and were not allowed to partake of the Eucharist. Even in the orthodox Catholic Church, the penitents were only gradually readmitted to full participation. Well, you can rest easy: I’m sure even the most hard-nose of us would be willing to let Gingrich gradually earn trust again IF he is willing to do so with a similar degree of humility. Many other public figures, such as Tony Blair and Anne Rice, have demonstrated all too well why the process has to be a long one.

  59. avecrux says:

    Eoin – I’ve read far worse comments about Pope Benedict – all of them erroneous.
    Being a recent convert doesn’t mean one is a poor historian or incapable of social commentary. Also – I think the resolution of his marital situation (1st wife died, 2nd marriage was invalid because 1st wife was alive when it took place) provides an opportunity to educate people regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage. For those claiming his “power” got his situation rectified – well, people unfortunately believe whatever they want to believe.

  60. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Dear avecrux:

    I get your point. Nevertheless, I ask my questions from the perspective of prudence. I don’t know whether his stature got him his annulment(s) – though it’s not out of the question in our times – but due to his stature, is it wise – again, is it prudent – for the both of them to be out so publicly given their formerly salacious situation?

    Good night.

  61. avecrux says:

    I just reiterate – his past is no more salacious than Bernard Nathanson, who did tremendous good on the speaking circuit, God rest his soul. I was 16 the first time I saw Nathanson speak. I had already seen “The Silent Scream” at 14, which confirmed me in my pro-life convictions at a key age.

  62. EWTN Rocks says:

    I’ve been unwittingly exposed to little “p” politics which were extremely heinous to say the least (I’m still nursing the wounds I sustained). However, it was this experience that led to my full reversion. I’m sad to say that Mr. Gingrich likely will need his faith to make it through the next 18 months.

    I have one thing in common with Mr. Gingrich: my path to reversion began at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where I awoke from my stupor and remembered that I was Catholic.

    I do not believe I would vote for Mr. Gingrich, but I wish him continued happiness as a Catholic.

  63. andreat says:

    Many of our greatest saints lead less than perfect lives before their conversions. Imagine if St Augustine had decided to “keep a low profile” and not record his conversion experience. It is true that trust needs to be earned, but surely we can give Mr Gingrich (and his wife) the benefit of the doubt. None of us know what the future will hold. And surely people would be more willing to convert if we didn’t view their conversion with suspicion, but rather rejoiced with them.

  64. JonM says:

    Wait, hold on. Are we seriously comparing Newt Gingrich to St. Augustine?

    That logic is straight from the Bugnini book about how ‘we need to change the liturgy to reflect the ancient Church.’ The context of St. Augustine, in terms of time, his place, and his immense contributions to the Church are not remotely comparable to the situation at hand.

    Again, I presume sincerity in his conversion; charity demands this unless there is hard evidence otherwise.

    With that said, the facts are the facts. He cites his (third) wife’s ‘devotion’ yet she obviously didn’t follow Catholic law when she married Mr. Gingrich. Therefore, I’m not sure just how devout she was.

    Further, the demographic change in the US is detectable given the shift towards a Latino/a population. Any national candidate needs a sizable chunk of this voting bloc. Personally, I think the evidence shows that tragically Hispanics are bleeding out of the Church. I don’t know how efficacious identifying as Catholic is for the purpose of vote getting.

    But having worked in politics for some high profile people, there is a prevailing theory amongst many that to pander to Hispanics one should emphasize Catholicism.

    Look, one of the first post-conversion acts by Newt was to endorse a notorious pro-abortion, pro-homosexual candidate for federal office.

    For those suggesting critics are Donatists, that is just wrong. No one at all is suggesting a past sinner is incapable forgiveness. The issue is that, as ContraMundum wrote, there seems to be a tendancy to declare someone a champion in a field he just took up.

    Of course any sin can be forgiven. But the temporal effects of those sins don’t magically go away. The effect of this is to make the Church look like a hypocrite on marriage. That is why some formal, public statement of past error is so important to prevent scandal.


  65. LisaP. says:

    This has been an informative thread.

    My first reaction was that difficulties with Mr. Gingrich’s conversion were not about past sins, but present ones, since I assumed that he was not validly married to the woman he considers his present wife. I see from the conversation that it isn’t so — in the view of the church, he is a widower who lived in adultery with another woman while his wife was alive, is now repentant and married validly. That’s a different scenario.

    I think the distress and judgment comes because of this misunderstanding and because of some of our experiences — e.g. hearing of “first wives” having to watch their husbands and “new wives” (no annulment, just divorce) bring the offering up to the altar at Mass, that sort of thing. I frankly assumed we were not talking of past sins of Mr. Gingrich, but current ones. Not his fault at all, my assumptions, but I do wish these news stories would make things more clear. I’m glad to learn here the full facts.

  66. I would say that the Nathanson example is a good one – in that after his conversion, he spent his life fighting the evils of abortion. Newt probably should speak a bit more about marriage, and probably not blame his divorces on his huge amount of patriotism.

    I will disagree with Fr. Z a little bit (although those who seem to doubt Newt’s conversion and make jokes about his next divorce are entirely out of line). I don’t think it is donatism to believe in a certain amount of discretion. If a man robs a bank, goes to jail, is truly repentant and converts, it is a good thing. When he gets out of jail, he will turn his life around. He might become wealthy, and give his money to charity in thanksgiving to God. He might be given awards for his civic virture, and streets might bear his name.

    But he will never, ever work in a bank. And that’s not a bad thing.

    Even though are sins are forgiven, they did happen. And sometimes a bit of discretion is in order.

    If a man divorced two women and married the person you were having an affair with each time, he shouldn’t talk about family values as if he has lived them (if he wants to talk about them, let him talk about how the lack of them hurt the people who loved and depended on him.

    I do not doubt Newt’s conversion, but I am not sure about some of his public statements – which seem somewhat self-serving.

  67. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Sliwka, it is well known that most converts read themselves into the Church. The questions just don’t go away.

  68. “If a man divorced two women and married the person [he was] having an affair with each time, he shouldn’t talk about family values as if he has lived them (if he wants to talk about them, let him talk about how the lack of them hurt the people who loved and depended on him.”

    What this guy said.

  69. Eoin Suibhne says:


  70. LisaP. says:

    “But he will never, ever work in a bank. And that’s not a bad thing.”

    That’s wise.

    I worked in a school once in a district where a principal was hired and six months later it was discovered that he’d hidden a federal drug conviction when he applied for the job. There was a lot of dismay at the judgmental attitude of the folks at the school who didn’t believe in giving the poor guy a chance when his transgression had happened years ago (there was also some amazing story about it being a CIA frameup, which didn’t help the conversation). Of course, it was argued that the lying had happened only months before. But what always confused me was the idea that if the guy couldn’t be principal of the school, his life was never going to be full again. There are many fulfilling careers out there — there’s no reason why a guy with even a distant and government-induced a cocaine problem needed to be working with children.

    I felt the same way when I heard about a priest in a family member’s parish that was working in a university ministry after acknowledged improprieties with young men of college age several years before. Why put him back there? Aren’t scandal and the near occasion of sin enough reason to avoid such a thing? Aren’t there plenty of other positions where a priest is not in a position of respect among young me? It’s not judging his heart, it’s using common sense. And it was hardly charitable to the priest to put him in this place daily, either.

  71. Fr Martin Fox says:

    I’m not interested in evaluating Mr. Gingrich’s sincerity as a Christian. He made a profession of faith, and as far as I know, he has done all that he should to rectify his marriage situation. The rest is up to his conscience, his pastor, and God.

    But he’s also a public figure who may seek public office–and I am certainly entitled to evaluate his fitness for that, in light of his record. And having observed Mr. Gingrich closely over many years, I do not trust him, I do not believe him to be sincere in his political professions. I believe him to be an opportunist, pure and simple.

    Some notable features…in 1964, in Georgia, he was a Rockefeller supporter, against Goldwater. I.e., he sided with the GOP Establishment against a conservative insurgency. Later, when he first went after a seat in Congress, he sought the support of the environmental lobby and the NEA union. When that didn’t work out so well (Georgia, recall), he moved rightward. Then he won and rose.

    He has always trafficked in various ideas, some good, some bad; but it has always had the curious effect of boosting himself. When he finally arrived at the Speakership, and now he was in a position to deliver the goods, I think a fair evaluation would show he failed on many of the promises he made to the very same conservative constituencies whose support he sought on the climb up. He did some good–for a while–on spending, but then the spigot was reopened, and much of the problem with spending by the GOP Congress, until very recently, goes back to his time. He promised to support a national Right to Work law–but when he could have brought it to the floor as Speaker, it never happened. This is the same fellow who cultivated the NEA union. And I think he sacrificed the broader national interest when he decided to go after President Clinton, rather than continue to press a change agenda. The whole impeachment project did little for the causes he promoted to build his conservative reputation–but he didn’t need them anymore, so…

    Of course, he fell from grace, and spent some time in the wilderness. So, back to the playbook: promote conservative ideas and plans, to regain constituencies that can help propel him to power.

    Will it be different this time? Who can say?

  72. Andrew B says:

    Fr. Z:

    These sort of events are only slightly less cycnicism inducing than the married and frequently Protestant or fallen away Catholic couple with 0 or 1 or 2 children who convert to active Catholicism at about age 45 or 50 and suddenly become expert lecturers and “teachers” to the rest of us about the virtue of following Church teaching on artifical birth control, which they obviously used the entirety of their fertile years.

    Those of us who have labored 15+ years in the trenches of being married Catholics with many children during our youth can rightly doubt their sincerity and seriousness. And the usefulness of anything they have to say.

    IMHO, now that he has joined us, Mr. Gingrich needs to focus on living a life of penitence for a few years, not running for office and being in the public eye and lecturing the rest of us about our religion.

  73. Andrew B says:

    One other thought, true conversion cannot result from an intellectual adventure with Catholic books. We don’t have faith in a book, or in writings, intellectual musing, or clever arguments.

    Faith is an infused virtue creating a personal reltionship with the living Christ, his blessed Mother, and the holy angels and saints that results from the revelation of God, and not intellectual wrestling.

    Someone who thinks they have converted because of intellectual reasoning needs to examine themselves and make sure their faith is not merely in their own confidently held new opinions.

  74. Alice says:

    Andrew B,
    Thank goodness you weren’t the welcoming committee for the Latin Mass community my family used to be part of. Plenty of people were very sorry for the sins they had committed before they found (or refound) their faith AND just because my father converted around the age of 40 and my parents only had two children does not mean that they ever used contraception in their marriage. In fact, my father was adamantly opposed to it long before he saw the Catholic Church as anything more than something to be laughed at.

  75. As far as Mr Gingrich- don’t really trust him yet. Based on his past he has a long history of opportunism and supporting immoral people/ policies- even up to recently. Give him ten years or moral living and politics and maybe… we will be able to start trusting him. Glad he has converted but hope he is not trying to use the Faith for political purposes. God bless him and keep him faithful.

  76. @ Andrew B
    “Someone who thinks they have converted because of intellectual reasoning needs to examine themselves and make sure their faith is not merely in their own confidently held new opinions.”

    What a bunch of hogwash.
    Intellectual reasoning is the gift of perceiving reality- at least in a limited way. Yes it is a grace. It predisposes one to receive the gift of Faith. To claim some other reason such as personal relationships, emotional feeling are better is just foolish. Yes those can be avenues of grace but what happens when the person who led you to the Faith fails in some way or the emotional high you have is gone? When your Faith is grounded in Truth and facts (such as history, theology, philosophy) you have a firmer anchor to the Rock and the more and deeper the better. Of course grace is still required- as our very existence requires it every intstant in time.

    To say otherwise is plain silliness and sophistry.

  77. Sorry for going on the attack- it seemed the post was attacking the necessity of the intellect for conversion (since one needs to convert with their whole mind) but now see what you are trying to say- I think. Unfortunately, too many degrade the importance of the intellect in the Catholic world these days.

    However, if “a convert’s opinions” coincide with Truth then they are truth and not mere opinions. The question is if their opinions are true and if so have they attempted to internalize them (as opposed to not applying them)? If not then they are not truly converted in a certain sense possibly. Even if a Hindu stated doctrinal truths they would still be true even if he did not believe them or even did not know what he said. They are not merely someone’s “opinion.” If you mean something else then it is very unclear. Please don’t demean the importance of the intellect in the conversion process and sacramental life though- it is against both Catholic and especially Thomistic tradition/ teachings. God bless.

  78. SemiSpook says:

    I’m just going to clear the air here a little bit and just state that I did happen to encounter Mr. Gingrich at the Shrine many years ago (not sure if I was married to my wife at the time or if we were still dating). I happened to look across the main aisle in the upper Church of the Basilica and see a familiar profile, and I turned to my wife and whispered, “Is that who I think it is?” She looked over and then whispered to me, “You know, it does look like Newt.” Of course, the Basilica choir just happened to be singing at this particular Mass, so, yes, Callista was there (one of my wife’s friends from college was a cantor at the Basilica during her undergraduate studies, so I might have a closer connection than I think, in this case).

    Mass went on, obviously he didn’t receive at Communion, and went on his way afterwards, but I just thought it was interesting to see. As much as people may agree or disagree with any and all aspects of his lifestyle and/or politics, you have to give credit to the man for making an honest effort in this case. I agree with Fr. Z’s sentiments that the Church is a hospital for the soul. I know I’m not perfect, and there are many things I still struggle with to this day, but as long as I keep my faith (to borrow a sentiment from BXVI from Holy Week), I know good things are in store for me, and that I can use some of that good to pass along to others, such as Mr. Gingrich. Lord knows he needs it.

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