Gingrich, nominee for U.S. ambassador to Vatican, testifies at hearing

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Carolyn Mackenzie

Gingrich testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations July 18 for
her confirmation hearing as President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the U.S.
ambassador to the Vatican.

Gingrich, 51, affirmed the
administration’s commitment to protecting human rights and religious freedom
and responded to questions about refugees and the environment.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin,
presided, introducing Gingrich and referencing her involvement with the
Catholic Church. He noted that Gingrich was the organist for her local parish,
St. John’s Catholic Church, in her hometown of Whitehall, Wisconsin, and has
been a longtime member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of
the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

“Callista is a lifelong Catholic
and has been active in her faith for many years,” Johnson said.

He marked her almost three
decades of experience as a congressional staffer and subsequent work as
president of Gingrich Productions, a company that produces documentaries,
books, newsletters, and other materials related to history and public policy.

Johnson cited Gingrich’s
experience gained in producing a documentary film about Pope John Paul II’s
historic trip to Poland as evidence of her connections with and understanding
of the Catholic community and the Vatican, calling her “an ideal choice.”

Johnson noted that Rep. Francis
Rooney, R-Florida, who served as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2005 to
2008, was in attendance in support of Gingrich’s nomination.

In her testimony, Gingrich
emphasized her desire to work with the Vatican to protect religious freedom and
human rights, fight terrorism, violence and human trafficking, and seek
peaceful solutions to international crises.

Gingrich spoke of her time spent
producing “Nine Days That Changed the World,” and “Divine Mercy: The
Canonization of John Paul II” as influential in her education in the “bilateral
relationship” between the United States and the Vatican. The two entities, she
said, “can act as a worldwide force for good when we work together.”

After Gingrich and other
nominees delivered their testimonies, members of the committee questioned them.
Questions for Gingrich focused primarily on refugees and the environment.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New
Hampshire, said that Pope Francis has called upon America and the rest of the
Western world to welcome refugees and asked Gingrich how she planned to work
with the Holy See on this critical issue.

“We have a deep commitment in
this country to work so that people don’t have to become refugees,” Gingrich

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia,
pressed the question further, noting that the president’s most recent budget
proposal included a cut to the refugee bureau.

“We’re sending a message,” Kaine
said in reference to such cuts.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut,
also referred to the budget, alluding to a hiring freeze for the State

“You are all going to feel the
brunt of that,” Murphy said to Gingrich and the nominees for other positions
who were present at the hearing.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico,
asked Gingrich if she planned to work with the Vatican to increase ties between
the U.S. and Cuba. Gingrich replied that she hopes to aid in efforts to advance
religious freedom, human dignity and human rights in Cuba.

Udall also questioned Gingrich
on the environment, referencing Trump’s recent visit to the Vatican, at which
Pope Francis presented him with a copy of his encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

“The pope and the president
share a great concern about the environment,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich then said that while the
U.S. is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, as Trump announced in early
June, the U.S. will pursue a “balanced approach to climate change.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon,
also pressed Gingrich on the environment, asking Gingrich if Trump had read
“Laudato Si’.”

Although unsure if Trump had
read “Laudato Si’,” Gingrich explained that she had read “some of it” and
believes that climate changes exists and that some of it is due to human
behavior. She also said that Trump “wants the U.S. to be an environmental

Merkley said that he “must have
missed” any of the president’s statements showing his dedication to the

With questions from other
committee members ended, Johnson asked Gingrich about her experience producing
“Nine Days that Changed the World.” Gingrich responded that her work affirmed
that Pope John Paul helped usher in end of communism in Poland and Eastern
Europe. After Gingrich’s answer, Johnson concluded the hearing.

“America has been a phenomenal
force for good in the world; the Catholic Church has been a phenomenal force
for good in this world,” Johnson said.

If confirmed, Gingrich, wife of
former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a former congressional aide, will
become the 11th U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. She would succeed Ambassador
Ken Hackett, who retired in January. She would be the third woman to serve in
the post after Lindy Boggs, who served 1997-2001, and Mary Ann Glendon, who
served 2008-2009.

The ambassadorship began in 1984
with the official opening of diplomatic relations between the United States
under Ronald Reagan and the Vatican under Pope John Paul.

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