It is no secret that Pope Francis and President Trump do not see eye to eye on a number of issues, but the testimony of the president’s pick to be ambassador to the Holy See on Tuesday revealed just how much space exists between the White House and the Vatican on a number of key issues.
Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Callista Gingrich struggled to respond to questions about the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” one of the most important documents of Francis’ four-year papacy, but said that, should she be confirmed, she would focus on advancing global religious liberty, combating terrorism and human trafficking and fighting diseases such as H.I.V./AIDS and Ebola.
Pope Francis undoubtedly supports these goals, especially fighting human trafficking, which he has called “a form of slavery, a crime against humanity, a grave violation of human rights, and an atrocious scourge.”
But on other issues that have become hallmarks of the Francis papacy, notably care of creation and the global refugee crisis, Mrs. Gingrich had difficulty explaining how she might engage the Vatican, given Mr. Trump’s views.
Take the global refugee crisis.
On issues that have become hallmarks of the Francis papacy, notably care of creation and the global refugee crisis, Mrs. Gingrich had difficulty explaining how she might engage the Vatican, given Mr. Trump’s views.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, said during the congressional hearing that “Pope Francis has called on America and the rest of the Western world to uphold our moral leadership by welcoming vulnerable refugees fleeing violence and oppression into our country.”
She asked Mrs. Gingrich, “How would you argue the United States position that has been taken by this administration that has been less welcoming of refugees, and how will you work with the Holy See on that very critical issue?”
Mrs. Gingrich, a friend of President Trump who is married to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, pivoted, arguing that the United States continues to be a leader in international aid and suggesting that the Trump administration would instead focus on improving conditions in the regions that are producing refugees.
“We have a deep commitment to work to forward peace and stability, so people don’t have to become refugees,” she said.
But Sen. Shaheen pushed back, noting that the Trump administration has reduced the number of refugees that the United States would accept for resettlement, including those from Syria. She asked Mrs. Gingrich how she would work with Pope Francis on the issue.
“I think we can communicate our commitment to help those most in need, yes,” Mrs. Gingrich said.
On climate change and the environment, questions from senators were even more pointed.
Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, asked Mrs. Gingrich for her thoughts on “Laudato Si’,” the pope’s encyclical that addresses threats to the environment.
“The pope and the president share a great concern about our environment,” she answered, but she did not provide examples of how the pair share similar ecological goals. Instead, she said she looks “forward to working with the Holy See as the United States pursues a balanced approach to climate policy—one that promotes American jobs, American prosperity and energy security.”
It is unlikely that Mrs. Gingrich will find many allies in Rome who are willing to side with the president in placing American prosperity ahead of addressing global warming. In fact, the Vatican has been among the most vocal international voices on the threats of a warming planet to the world’s poorest nations, calling on countries with the most resources to do more to protect the Earth and to mitigate the worst effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, asked Mrs. Gingrich if the president read the 192-page copy of “Laudato Si’” that Pope Francis gave him during his May visit to the Vatican, a memento the pope routinely offers world leaders. Mrs. Gingrich said she was unsure if the president had read it, prompting the senator to ask if she had a read a copy.
“I have looked at some of it,” she replied.
When Sen. Merkley asked Mrs. Gingrich, “Are there pieces of it that particularly resonate for you?” Mrs. Gingrich paused several times, the only point during her testimony where she appeared unable to provide a confident response.
“Well, I think we’re all called to be stewards of the land,” she said. She then pointed to earlier testimony in which she said Mr. Trump remained committed “to sustain our clean air and our clean water, and he wants the United States to be an environmental leader.”
Sen. Merkley pushed Mrs. Gingrich on climate change, asking if she agreed with Pope Francis or with the president when it comes to the urgency of taking measures to limit carbon emissions.
“Well, I do believe that climate change exists and that some of it is due to human behavior,” Mrs. Gingrich said. “But I think as the president pursues a better deal for Americans, we will indeed remain an environmental leader in the world.”
During the president’s visit, Vatican officials had lobbied, unsuccessfully, for Mr. Trump not to withdraw the United States fromt the Paris climate accords.
Describing how the United States and the Vatican could work together Mrs. Gingrich relied on reference points from the 1980s rather than more recent examples of mutual cooperation between the United States and the Holy See.
During her opening statement to the committee, Mrs. Gingrich was laudatory of Pope Francis, highlighting his pleas to “religious leaders and people of all faiths to unequivocally reject terrorism and violence in the name of religion.”
She added, “The United States and the Holy See can act as a worldwide force for good when we work together.”
But when asked about perhaps the most prominent example of cooperation between the two entities in recent times, the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba, she parried. “We certainly appreciate the Holy See’s concern for a better relationship between the U.S. and Cuba,” she said, “and if confirmed I look forward to working with the Holy See to advance religious freedom, human dignity and human rights in Cuba.”
Instead, as an example of mutual cooperation between Rome and Washington, she pointed to “Nine Days That Changed the World,” a film she produced with her husband about Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Poland and his subsequent work with President Ronald Reagan in combating communism.
Mrs. Gingrich said she has “confidence that the United States-Vatican bilateral relationship is a force for good, and one that cannot be ignored.”
Mrs. Gingrich is a lifelong Catholic, a member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and she is responsible for her husband’s conversion to the faith. She has frequently expressed her admiration for Pope Francis on social media, and she was present at several events during his visit to the United States in 2015.