As the Iowa Caucus approaches, increased attention is being paid to the religious affiliations of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Much of this discussion has centered upon Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, but the media has also paid a significant amount of attention to Newt Gingrich’s Catholicism. The latest round of controversy in the mainstream media began with Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times piece, in which she speculated about whether Gingrich’s 2009 conversion to Catholicism fits into a broader shift towards the right for Catholic participation in American politics in the post-Kennedy era. Likewise, Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s NPR piece narrated the details of his conversion process, highlighting the pivotal role of his current wife, Callista, as well as his attraction to the intellectual tradition of the Church.
Given the important role played by American Catholics in determining the outcome of presidential elections, many commentators have speculated that Newt Gingrich might be the one to capture the prized Catholic vote.
For Gingrich’s campaign, his recent conversion from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholicism almost functions like the makeovers of popular reality TV shows. His past record of “double spousal abandonment” and congressional ethics violations, we are told, are sins of a previous life that are irrelevant for the newly made-over “Catholic Newt.”
In late November, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, surged in the polls to become the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election. In recent days Gingrich’s poll numbers have faltered, but he retains a slight lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in national polls.
Having converted to Catholicism in 2009, Gingrich is one of two Catholics running for the nomination. He has not made his Catholicism an important part of his campaign rhetoric, although he has not hidden it, either. At many of his campaign stops, he shows the film Nine Days that Changed the World, a documentary on the role of Pope John Paul II in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe produced by Gingrich and his wife Callista.
So far, discussions of Gingrich’s faith have focused on his personal character, but less attention has been given to the influence of Catholicism on his political views…..