- - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

America should welcome the nomination of Callista Gingrich as the 11th U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Mrs. Gingrich brings the necessary skill sets to navigate the sometimes labyrinthine interface between politics and the Catholic Church.

And for Catholics, just as President Trump has kept his promises to appoint a pro-life justice to the U.S. Supreme Court and by cutting abortion funding, he has nominated a committed, practicing Catholic as who is fully qualified to represent the interests of the United States to the Holy See.

Mrs. Gingrich is pro-life and conservative, articulate and savvy — her pro-life convictions insure the pro-life polices of the Trump administration will be the message conveyed to the Vatican by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. She also has the experience of being the wife to the indefatigable public servant and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. No doubt having an experienced politician and professional historian at her side while she represents the United States is a significant bonus.

It would be mistake to assume her appointment is due primarily to her husband. After all, it was her faith that led to the conversion of Newt Gingrich to the Roman Catholic Church. Mrs. Gingrich has demonstrated her ability to not only speak for herself but also take an active role in the “new evangelization” proclaimed by Saint John Paul the Great. In addition to being an author and public speaker, she has co-produced several films about the Catholic Church — “Divine Mercy: The Canonization of John Paul II” and “Nine Days That Changed The World,” a film on John Paul and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union.

Her job is not to represent American Catholics to the Holy See, but to represent the United States and the administration of President Trump. She will meet with Pope Francis as the ruler of the Vatican City State and the Holy See, the universal government of the Catholic Church, to discuss the new administration’s position on political issues. She has not been nominated to convey the opinion of America’s Catholic community, which is the domain of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

After Mr. Trump’s successful visit to Pope Francis the door has been open to create a better relationship to the Vatican than what was presaged by the interchange over immigration between Mr. Trump and the Holy Father last year. Prior to their first meeting, Pope Francis indicated he wanted to make a fresh start with America’s new president, and after the meeting, which included the topic of immigration, Mr. Trump stated publicly to the Holy Father, “I will not forget what you said.” As Vatican ambassador, Callista Gingrich will continue to convey the good will of the president to leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics.

However, the nomination of a U.S. ambassador to the Holy See is about more than the qualifications of Mrs. Gingrich. It reiterates the message sent by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 when he nominated the first ambassador, William A. Wilson, establishing full diplomatic relations for the first time in 117 years. The United States was no longer going to kowtow to the pockets of anti-Catholic sentiment in our nation.

As reported in The New York Times on Jan. 10, 1984, there was some fear of an anti-Catholic backlash against the appointment. However, as the assistant to the president for public liaison, Faith Whittlesey reported the response had been “positive,” adding, “the rank-and-file Roman Catholics are pleased that this has taken place. Everybody knows that the Holy See is an international focal point of diplomatic contact. I think the level of opposition will be muted.’” (Ms. Whittlesey was a member of the Catholic Advisory Committee to the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign.)

To those who say Callista Gingrich does not have the “background” to become Vatican ambassador, I would point out that the previous ambassadors came from different backgrounds. For example, Bill Wilson was in the oil-tool business. Frank Shakespeare was the president of CBS. Ray Flynn was the mayor of Boston. Lindy Boggs was a congresswoman from Louisiana. Mary Ann Glendon was a Harvard law professor. And Ken Hackett was the president of the Catholic Relief Services.

As for our ambassadors to other countries, political donors many of them, they’ve often been little better than bundlers and bagmen. Mrs. Gingrich is a lot better than that.

The present U.S. Embassy to the Vatican states, “The United States and the Holy See enjoy a positive relationship that serves to amplify a global message of peace, hope, and justice.” No doubt Callista Gingrich possessing an evident love for the church, years of political experience, knowledge of public policy, and the poise of a veteran diplomat will only build on the strong relationship that has been built and maintained with the Vatican over the past 33 years.

• Deal W. Hudson, former publisher of Crisis Magazine, served a chairman of Catholic outreach at the Republican National Committee under George W. Bush.

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