Friday, 03 April 2009 00:22
By Katharine Q. Seelye
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, in 2007.
Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, has converted to Catholicism. He has not said publicly why he converted, but his wife, Callista Bisek, is Catholic. Mr. Gingrich has been a Baptist since graduate school.
It was Matt Bai, writing in The New York Times magazine a month ago, who signaled Mr. Gingrich’s conversion and provided some political context:
At a moment when the role of religious fundamentalism in the party is a central question for reformers, Gingrich, rather than making any kind of case for a new enlightenment, has in fact gone to great lengths to placate Christian conservatives. The family-values crowd has never completely embraced Newt, probably because he has been married three times, most recently to a former Hill staff member, Callista Bisek. In 2006, though, Gingrich wrote a book called “Rediscovering God in America” — part of a new canon of work he has done reaffirming the role of religion in public life. The following year, he went on radio with the evangelical minister James Dobson to apologize for having been unfaithful to his second wife. (A Baptist since graduate school, Gingrich said he will soon convert to Catholicism, his wife’s faith.)
A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, Rick Tyler, said Tuesday that Mr. Gingrich was not commenting on the conversion, at least at the moment, but may in the future.
Mr. Gingrich was confirmed into the church on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill and celebrated that night, according to The Hill, with friends at Cafe Milano, one of Washington’s most insider-y dining establishments. His guests included Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Cardinal of Washington.
On the occasion of Mr. Gingrich’s conversion, the Daily Beast listed a dozen other notable converts to Catholicism. They include Jeb Bush and Nicole Kidman.
Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, converted to Catholicism in December 2007, facing too many political difficulties of trying to do so while he was prime minister.
Things are a bit different in the United States, of course. While Britain has never had a Catholic P.M., the United States has had a Catholic president. Still, being Catholic can complicate a political career: John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and a Catholic, was threatened by some bishops with excommunication because of his support for abortion rights.
Mr. Gingrich, who has not run for elective office since he was forced out of Congress in 1999, has toyed with running for president in the past and is much-rumored to be considering a 2012 bid.
It is not clear how his Catholicism might affect his political future. But even before his conversion, Mr. Gingrich was branded a hypocrite in the blogosphere after he wrote in a recent Twitter post that President Obama had “anti-Catholic values.”
Lamenting that Notre Dame, one of the nation’s leading Catholic universities, had invited President Obama to speak at its May commencement, Mr Gingrich noted: “It is sad to see notre dame invite president obama to give the commencement address Since his policies are so anti catholic values.” Bloggers noted that Mr. Gingrich himself had been divorced, twice; the Church does not allow divorce unless the marriage can be proved never to have existed. It is not clear whether Mr. Gingrich’s first two marriages were annulled.
Copyright 2009 New York Times