ROME—In a few short weeks, if the U.S. Senate confirms her appointment as ambassador to the Holy See, which is expected, Callista Gingrich should be unpacking her bags alongside husband Newt and settling into the lavish Villa Richardson atop one of Rome’s famous hills. The Washington couple will be the talk of the town, no doubt trailed by paparazzi and sought after by local media as they acquaint themselves with the Eternal City.
But Mrs. Gingrich’s job will be no Roman holiday. The new ambassador will have to strike the uneasy balance between her self-proclaimed admiration for the pope as a devout Catholic and her duty to her boss, who often is depicted as something of an anti-Christ.
Lately, Pope Francis has been bluntly anti-Trump, essentially shooting down almost everything the American president says with, well, logic.
A perfect example occurred on the storm-tossed papal plane heading back to Rome from Colombia through the incredibly wide path of Hurricane Irma on Sunday night. Francis was asked by the traveling press about climate change. To hear those on the plane talk about it, the turbulence, timing, and flight path over the destruction felt like something just short of divine intervention.
Francis shared his disdain for climate change deniers, a group Trump associates himself with, once tweeting, “Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air - not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.”
Francis didn’t mince his words either. “Man is stupid,” he said, quoting the Old Testament, according to those on the plane. “When you don’t want to see, you don’t see.”
While Francis didn’t address Trump by name, the implication was clear. “Those who deny this must go to the scientists and ask them. They speak very clearly,” Francis said, once again showing his faith in science, which he has done on a number of occasions. “These aren’t opinions pulled out of thin air. They are very clear.”
Francis then went on to say that the world’s leaders can decide how they deal with the planet, but “history will judge those decisions.”
Climate wasn’t the only issue dear to Trump’s heart that Francis frowned upon. The pope has been throughout his papacy a loyal advocate of migrants and refugees, and also a servant of the poor, offering facilities on Vatican grounds for the less fortunate and speaking out in support of open migration whenever possible. When asked about Trump’s suspension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA, Francis simply said he wished the president hadn’t done that.
“I think they should reconsider,” Francis said, according to transcripts of the in-flight press conference. “I hope they rethink it a bit… Because I heard the U.S. president speak: he presents himself as a person who is pro-life.” Francis went on to say that splitting up families is in direct conflict with anyone who truly sees himself as pro-life.
“If he is a good pro-life believer he must understand that family is the cradle of life and one must defend its unity,” Francis said, leaving little open to interpretation about what he thinks of the American president.
Earlier this week, Trump supporter and would-be inspirer Steve Bannon fired a shot across the bow of the Catholic Church, claiming American bishops make money off of irregular immigration.
“They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration,” Bannon told CBS’ 60 Minutes, angering American Catholic leaders who adamantly denied the claims as “preposterous” and essentially declared war on Trump’s surrogate-in-chief.
It’s hard to imagine how the new ambassador will unruffle those feathers once she lands in Rome, even though it is not entirely clear where the Gingrich couple stands on Bannon. Newt Gingrich told Fox and Friends that Bannon was better off outside the White House after he was let go last month. “Steve Bannon is much more of a free spirit,” he said. “I once said that he was a pirate serving in the U.S. Navy. I think he preferred to go back to being a pirate, and he’ll be on the outside attacking things he doesn’t like, and offering ideas the president will sometimes adopt.”
Even without Bannon’s aggression and Trump’s digressions, Ambassador Callista Gingrich clearly has her work cut out for her trying to find common or even steady ground between the the pronouncements of Donald Trump and the preaching of Pope Francis.