(Washington, D.C., Vatican News Service. For immediate release). Newt Gingrich is scheduled to deliver an important policy address at Georgetown University today. In large part, the address has been prompted by Gingrich’s recent conversion to Roman Catholicism, the faith of his third wife, Callistra Gingrich, who has publicly stated that she wants him to be a good Catholic. During that address, Gingrich will announce that he is withdrawing as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.In a remarkable and candid interview prior to today’s address, Gingrich explained the reasons why he will no longer be a candidate. “I was drawn to the Catholic Church because it is the faith of my wife. But, in the past few decades, I have also grown to appreciate the importance and influence that the Church exerts in the modern world. In order to be received into the Church,” he continued, “I had to study Catholic theology and its catechism, but I had not had a chance to delve deeply into Catholic social doctrine and philosophy. I have now begun to do that as part of my Lenten preparation for Easter.”
Gingrich says those studies, to date, have fundamentally altered his own world view. “By the time I completed my PhD at Tulane in Modern European History, I was thoroughly imbued with the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation - the kind of individualism that was emphasized in the works of thinkers like Martin Luther, John Locke, Voltaire and Montesquieu. These thinkers, by and large, defined freedom and rights broadly, as the absence of restraint, and as a necessary check upon the exercise of power by government. They viewed government as something alien and dangerous, and almost always in conflict with the interests of individuals.”
Because of his affinity for their politics, Gingrich says that he had, heretofore, always identified with the ideals of Republican Party and viewed himself as a conservative: “I now understand, after my initial study of Catholic political philosophy, that the political ideas that I endorsed in the past were not, in fact, conservative - in the Catholic or European sense of that term - but rather were based upon antiquated 18th century liberal notions. I was thus a right-wing, classical liberal parading as a conservative.”
“The Catholic conservative tradition,” Gingrich emphasized, “is very different. It traces its lineage from Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas, to Catholic philosophers today. It is thus fundamentally at odds with the kind of anti-social individualism that dominates current U.S. political discourse. It is also very radical.” Gingrich illustrated this difference by citing Aquinas, who stated that, "It is lawful for a man to hold private property" but that "Man should not consider his outward possessions as his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Gingrich invoked the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno to the effect that “man does not live alone; he is not an isolated individual, but a member of society...Reason, that which we call reason, reflex and reflective knowledge, the distinguishing mark of man, is a social product." Gingrich also confessed that he has now begun to read the works of the French Catholic philosophers Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Maritain. He endorsed, without qualification, Maritain’s statement that "[T]he primary reason for which men, united in political society, need the State, is the order of justice....As a result, the primary duty of the modern state is the enforcement of social justice."
Gingrich observed that his reading of papal encyclicals, too, has helped to enrich and deepen his understanding of politics. He quoted approvingly from Pope John XXIII’s Pacem et Terris, in which the pope insisted that “Individual groups and intermediate groups are obliged to make their specific contributions to the common welfare. One of the chief consequences of this, is that they must bring their own interests into harmony with the needs of the community, and must dispose of their goods and their services as civil authorities have prescribed, in accord with the norms of justice, in due form and within the limits of their competence.”
Lastly, Gingrich praised and recommended Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, from which he read an excerpt: “Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.” That quotation prompted Gingrich to rebuke GOP Governors Kasich, Pawlenty and Walker for the anti-labor legislation that they recently signed into law in their respective states. “They are plain wrong. It is important for American Catholics to carefully examine their consciences and to reflect upon Pope Leo’s teaching.”
Gingrich concluded the interview by stating that he has now embraced the Catholic Church’s commitment to social justice in its entirety, which includes support for life-affirming activities such as opposition to capital punishment, to helping the poor, supporting labor rights and a higher minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, reigning in corporate corruption and greed, and opposing violence - such as that caused by unrestricted access to guns - and unjust wars. He noted wistfully that, as such, he is no longer a viable candidate for the GOP presidential nomination: “Many of the Catholic teachings I have now come to accept are significantly more progressive and require a more courageous stand in support of the public good than almost all elected politicians in the United States - with the possible exception of Congressmen Dennis Kucinich - would ever dare to endorse. I no longer feel that I have a home in the Republican Party or that I will ever have a chance to hold elective office again. But some things are, frankly, more important. I now intend, as penance for my past transgressions, to devote my life todoing good works and to leading by example. ”