The 51-year-old Roman Catholic, choir singer and author is the third wife of former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Her appointment is viewed as a reward for her husband’s staunch support for Trump, though he has said he won’t likely move to Rome during his wife’s posting.
The conservative ambassador-to-be isn’t likely to see eye-to-eye with the liberal pontiff, who espouses a kinder, gentler, more tolerant church and has been critical of Trump’s policies. In a pointed rebuke to the president’s plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, Francis said last year that countries should “build bridges, not walls.” Trump called the pope’s comments “disgraceful.” Francis is meeting with the president at the Vatican on Wednesday.
Response from Catholics to her nomination was “mixed,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. Rev. Gerald Fogarty, a professor of religious studies and history at the University of Virginia, called her the “most extraordinarily unqualified ambassador to the Holy See in U.S. history.”
“I’m just shocked that they didn’t find somebody that could maybe pave the way a little bit more, to smooth things over,” Fogarty said.
But Stephen Schneck, a Catholic political philosopher who has been involved in the Democratic Party, said that, while she may lack experience, her strong links to Trump could end up serving the Vatican well.
Some critics are “sniping about the unseemliness” of Gingrich’s nomination, as the Catholic Herald puts it, because of the couple’s history and the church’s stand against divorce and infidelity.
Newt Gingrich had a six-year affair with Callista Bisek, who was a congressional aide at the time, while married to his second wife and assistant, Marianne Gingrich. Marianne Gingrich told The Washington Post that her husband asked for a divorce after she refused his demand for an “open marriage” — a report he denied. Two days after his demand for a divorce, Gingrich gave a speech about family values at an event organized by Republican women. He was also leading impeachment proceedings at the time against President Bill Clinton related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Bisek married Gingrich, who was a Baptist at the time, in 2000. He converted to Catholicism in 2009.
Callista Gingrich is also president of the charitable Gingrich Foundation and the couple’s multimedia company, Gingrich Productions, which made a well-received documentary about Pope John Paul II’s 1979 trip to Poland
Her appointment must be confirmed by the Senate.