Would Gingrich be a Catholic president?

Andrew Burton GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (L) speaks at the Heartland … Continued

Andrew Burton


Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (L) speaks at the Heartland Acres Agribition Center as his wife Callista Gingrich listens on January 2, 2012 in Independence, Iowa.

It is not clear that Newt Gingrich will be the Republican party’s presidential nominee, much less the next president of the United States. But asking the question about a “Catholic president” sharpens what “Catholic” means in politics.

One becomes a Catholic by Baptism, obliged to observe the commandments of God: do not lie, steal, fight, or commit adultery. Catholics are also supposed to go to Mass on Sundays. Mr. Gingrich qualifies best for the first and the last practices on this list, with a dubious record for the in-betweens. He has been rejected by his party for unethical behavior, married three times and twice remarried. Many in Catholic America can not understand why Mr. Gingrich was able to have his third marriage recognized by the church. But John F. Kennedy had failings on the sixth commandment, just like Gingrich, and is still revered as “the first Catholic president of the United States.” Availing himself of the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, Mr. Gingrich’s sins can be forgiven. If Baptism and Sunday Mass are all that is need to be Catholic, then Mr. Gingrich is another JFK.

A far more complicated assessment of Catholicity is how the church’s teachings impact on presidential decisions. John F. Kennedy clearly separated his administration from a “Catholic agenda.” In fact, he probably would not have been elected president without stating:

“Whatever issue may come before me as president–on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject–I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

Recently, however, some in the American hierarchy like Archbishop Chaput have rejected these principles and insisted instead on a new set of criteria. By Chaput’s standards, John F. Kennedy was not a Catholic president.

The political issues that directly engage Catholic teaching have familiar boundaries. Let’s begin with the social issues like abortion and same sex marriage. It is settled that no federal dollars can be used to fund abortions. Mr. Gingrich and the Republicans clearly agree with this principle (as also do President Obama and the Democrats). Catholic doctrine, however, bans
abortions — even those that follow rape or incest. Moreover, reversing the famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision merely returns abortion laws to the states. Only a constitutional amendment would end all abortions. That path has been pursued fruitlessly for nearly 40 years, although an alternative strategy reduces abortions by expanding family services. Mr. Gingrich opposes expanding such programs, choosing to support the amendment.

Same-sex marriage – like divorce — can be recognized in civil law without affecting how the church administers the sacrament. But should civil law force a Catholic understanding of marriage on non-Catholics? Mr. Gingrich intends to take the right of marriage away from persons of the same sex. Since he advocates a constitutional against both same sex marriage and abortion, he qualifies as a Chaput Catholic.

Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security, food-stamps, school lunches, etc. constitute social justice issues. The church teaches that the wealthy ought to share with the needy, whether by taxes or by free-will donations. But it would be unfair to assume that opposing
funding of such programs is an automatic rejection of Catholic social teaching. The principle of subsidiarity limits a higher governmental program from replacing a local and/or voluntary one that is already working. Mr. Gingrich has invoked subsidiarity in pushing repeal of Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act (AFHCA). Subsidiarity, however, is operative only when the social need has already been satisfied. And this is not the case without AFHCA, because someone dies every 12 minutes from lack of health insurance. Ironically, the AFHCA exactly follows the subsidiarity principle by not changing the private insurance for 80 percent of people, invoking federal law only for those languishing without insurance. Gingrich’s pledge to cut spending on social programs, here as elsewhere, qualifies as implementation of Catholic subsidiarity only and until there is proof that needs are addressed at the local level. Gingrich fails this test because it is not enough to be against something imperfect, a Catholic president ought to stand for something better. Time for Rick Santorum?


Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • harkers

    When Newt gets wife # 4 his religion will reflect the change.

  • mgginva

    Newt now can not vote in Virginia, his home state, because you have to sign a pledge there saying if you vote in the GOP primary you’ll support whoever wins. Since he claims he will not vote for Paul if he wins essentially, Newt either has to break his pledge or not vote.
    There is no prosperity without Peace.
    Ron Paul 2012

  • csintala79

    The Catholic Church does not subscribe to “freedom of conscience,” which was a bulwark of the Reformation. An individual cannot be forced or coerced into faith. Our contact with God is a one to one personal relationship, mediated through Christ. The Roman Church interjects the clergy, a priest into the connection. The Church believes it is the arbiter of man’s bond with God. It rejects the idea that an untutored layperson has the light of God within him that would allow an individual to be in consonance with God. Recently the Church has modified or eliminated its dogma on several points of belief that it required Catholics to observe for centuries, e.g., not eating meat on Friday. In spite of a doctrinal precept being obviously illogical and non-canonical, a Catholic has to observe it until the Church rules on its spuriousness. No priest will be standing at your side when you face judgment; everyone has to deal with our maker alone—everyone has to walk that lonesome valley by himself. If the Catholic hierarchy is now taking a position opposite to JFK’s, then to what lengths would a Catholic president go to have its dogma forced on the population? There are many items of belief which the Church considers beyond argument: how about transubstantiation? This is a arcane theological issue with which few today are familiar with, but the Church in the past has burned many for not subscribing to its views on whether the host (the little wafer) and the wine actually turn into the body and blood of Christ. Oh, it would be impossible that this could ever become an issue? Don’t believe it; if the Church leaders insist that a Catholic politician adhere to all Church dogma, don’t believe that it is impossible.

  • csintala79

    I believe Newt is not on the ballot as he didn’t collect the necessary 10,000 signatures. In the past, the GOP has accepted signatures with little to no scrutiny. This year they went over them with a fine tooth comb. He didn’t pass muster.

  • csintala79

    To think, Henry VIII had to become the head of his own church to get an annulment.

  • Bluefish2012

    Couple of things:

    Re: On conscience, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Para.1778. Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law:

    [Quote] Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more; I mean that it was not a dictate, nor conveyed the notion of responsibility, of duty, of a threat and a promise…. [Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. [John Henry Cardinal Newman]”

    Re transubstantiation: I’d be interested to know how you read John Chapter 6? It’s hardly a parable.

  • ThomasBaum

    The present Pope has also said that it is the duty of a Catholic to follow his/her conscience and that one’s conscience trumps, so to speak, those in “authority”.

    By the way, the Catholic Eucharist is Jesus, just as Jesus said very plainly and straightforwardly, the Holy Spirit revealed this to me.

    Whether or not anyone believes this is up to them but to say that Jesus, in the bible, did not say this quite literally is quite simply to either call Jesus a liar or to say what is plainly written in the bible, a distortion.

  • Alecto

    This guy is wearing his socialism on his sleeve. There is no Catholic angle here. I can only hope any responsible, reasoned individual reading this tripe will run, run from the likes of Arroyo. He has reduced a religion which preaches the means of salvation to a tawdry, divisive, oppressive, ill-informed political agenda. There will be hell to pay.

  • Catken1

    Mainly because his first wife’s nephew was essentially holding the Pope hostage. Given ordinary circumstances, Henry’d likely have gotten his divorce quite easily.
    Imagine, if Catherine of Aragon had known that by going quietly into a nunnery, she could’ve preserved Catholicism in England, at least for a while…

  • amelia45

    One thing is very clear. There are few Catholics who are Chaput Catholics. Wildly large percentages of Catholics use birth control. The majority of Catholics support gay unions. And even totally banning abortions is only supported by something like 25% of voters of this country.

    Who defines what it means to be a Catholic? A Catholic president? A Catholic voter? I absolutely reject the Chaput model. I am both a Catholic and a citizen of a democracy that calls for equality and freedom for individuals. I will hold to the ideals of both. My faith informs but does not dictate my conscience.

  • tony55398

    Whether or not the law allows abortion, the choice is still up to the individual, always was and always will be. If you want to end abortion, you will have to change the individual, the mother, unless you live in China, then you will have to change the government. The Church has the responsibility to change hearts, not laws, laws can at most point out what is immoral, what is evil, they have not the power to change hearts and minds. Helping those who are pregnant and in dire straits is one way the government could help end this terrible practice.

  • david6

    Newt Gingrich doesn’t care about religion at all, except to the extent that it will help him get what he wants. He changes religions almost as often as he changes wives and he seems to treat both with equally little respect.

  • tony55398

    As much as I would like to see a more compassionate government, I would not want a Catholic president that would be an extension of the Catholic belief, nor would I want a Muslim President to be an extension of Islamic belief, etc. Religion has its proper role in the life of the community and nation and government has its role, although religion can be an influence, it must not and should not dictate policy that affects people of all persuasions.

  • thebump

    There is no such thing as a “compassionate” government or bureaucracy. Only individual human beings are capable of compassion.

  • thebump

    Sounds like your conscience is stunted by stubbornness and falsehoods.

  • thebump

    This is a relatively reasonable piece by Arroyo’s standards. However, he does produce one shrieking howler:

    But should civil law force a Catholic understanding of marriage on non-Catholics?

    What a deliberate grotesque distortion! This issue has nothing whatever to do with “Catholic understanding”. Marriage in its very nature is the union of the two naturally distinct and complementary sexes as husband and wife. That universal truth is rooted in natural law and the most basic facts of life. It transcends societies, faiths, ideologies, traditions, creeds, languages, cultures, races, colors, nationalities, and legal systems. It’s not a matter of Catholic doctrine or any other religious doctrine or tenet.

  • thebump

    “The majority of Catholics support [unisex] unions.”

    Nonsense. No practicing Catholic with a mature knowledge of the faith could deny that the Divine plan of creation — as expressed in Genesis, echoed by Jesus’s own words, and reflected in the constant understanding of the People of God — is predicated on the union of the two naturally distinct and complementary sexes as husband and wife.

  • tony55398

    A government that places the needs of the poor on the same level as the wealthy, would be compassionate in my estimation.

  • thebump

    I can only reiterate that by anthropomorphizing the state you are seriously abusing and devaluing the word compassion. Compassion can only be an attribute of a person, not a state or institution. It is a virtue that can only be practiced within the context of a relationship between two people.

    Moreover, I suspect that your definition (a government that places the needs of the poor on the same level as the wealthy) is misleading in that what you really mean is a system of using state power to confiscate and redistribute resources. It’s highly debatable whether compassion has anything to do with such a scheme. Even if it arises because some citizens feel sorry for the poor, it takes absolutely no compassion to give away other people’s money.

  • tony55398

    No matter, very few wealthy achieved their success without help, often at the expense of those who same people you claim less deserving of government help. Government after all is more then a mechanical machine or as you put it an institutional structure, it’s made up of people like you and like me, it has a direction set by its leaders, It can favor whomever it chooses at the expense of another. It has in a sense, a will of its own, it can choose hate as Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Love, there are no other choices, to be neutral is no choice at all, it’s the law of the jungle the winner take all, and finally ending in disaster, where the haves become the have nots in a revolution such as is occurring in the Middle East.

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