When world leaders get their heads together behind closed doors, many of us are curious about what may have been the topic of conversation.
So it was last week when our in-over-his-head president (small “p” please, Mr. Editor) and Pope Francis stepped away from what looked like an extremely uncomfortable public photo session. At least for the Pontiff. The two took a couple of steps into an adjoining room and the door closed quickly behind just the two of them.
When they emerged a few minutes later, Trump said loud enough for all to hear, “I’ll remember what you said.” So, what do you suppose His Holiness said?
Here’s what I hope it was: “I want your personal assurance that Gingrich woman won’t set foot in the Vatican as your ambassador - much less Italy!”
Trump has made a string of terrible Cabinet and ambassadorial selections. Hacks, know-nothings, revenge-seekers, government haters, politically and civically ignorant millionaires. But he surpassed even himself when he appointed a former congressional staff secretary and serial adulterer Ambassador to the Vatican.
Callista Bisek and Newt Gingrich began a six-year affair on Capitol Hill in 1993. She was a typist in Congressman Steve Gunderson’s office. Gunderson was gay but still “in the closet.” When he found out about the illicit bed hopping, he hesitated to fire Callista because she might “out” him as revenge. So, she and Newt were an open topic of conversation for years while Mrs. Gingrich (Marianne) fumed at home in Virginia.
In early2000, ol’ Newt informed his cancer-stricken - and hospitalized - wife he wanted a divorce. Bedside, it was. August 18th of that year, he and Callista made their long affair legal. Gingrich had pulled this same infidelity bit years before with his first wife but didn’t marry his co-adulterer.
While he was still in Congress, the Gingriches used his national clout to get the Catholic Church to annul his 18-year marriage to Marianne on the grounds she had been married before. Then Callista worked on Newt until he became a Catholic convert.
For several years, Newt battled his way up to becoming Speaker of the House until his “wheeling and dealing” and highly questionable ethics forced him to resign from Congress in disgrace. Or rather, it should have been disgrace.
The two have filled their time since Newt’s ouster selling books and video’s to the far right and becoming conservative celebrities. They’ve also raked in millions with public appearances and speeches appealing to the “religious” right. Apparently, serial adultery, public humiliation and disgrace can be overcome for a $19.95 video or a big bucks chicken dinner and a patriotic two-step.
The “business” of using ambassadorships as rewards for staunch, mostly rich political backers, is not new. Even John Kennedy’s Pop was an Ambassador to England in the ‘30's because of his generous financial support of FDR. But, sometimes the appointee turns out to be a valuable asset in the largely ceremonial and administrative job. Former Senator Mike Mansfield and Caroline Kennedy, for example, were both ambassadors to Japan during some critical times and were publically praised for aiding America’s interests.
Still, most often, someone is appointed and never expected to do much more than pose for pictures, cut some ribbons and keep passport and other immigration issues to a minimum. And, of course, be the President’s eyes and ears in foreign political circles.
But, Callistsa Gingrich as ambassador to the Vatican - one of the most important geographic and moral places in all Christendom? Callista Gingrich? You’ve got to be kidding.
Those who watched the Pope and Trump closely during the short photo op couldn’t help but notice the Pontiff’s unsmiling face and the dour look he offered the cameras. A man who’s jubilant and charming manners have won him hundreds of millions fans all over the world, regardless of anyone’s differing personal religious beliefs, spent much of the brief time looking down at his shoes. Slippers?
I’d like to think there was a tipoff there - a silent pontifical message to the world that the following few minutes alone with Trump were going to be filled with very serious and important words on behalf of the Vatican, Catholics everywhere and honorable people of all faiths.
In my heart of hearts, I’d like to think the Pope said directly “I want your personal assurance that Gingrich woman won’t set foot in the Vatican as your ambassador - much less Italy.”
Hey, even us Protestants have feelings.