ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports: Before a presumed White House bid for 2012, Newt Gingrich is for the first time expounding on why he converted to Catholicism after 65 years spent as a Southern Baptist.
“It would be more accurate to say that I gradually became Catholic and then realized one day that I should accept the faith that surrounded me,” Gingrich, 67, told a crowd at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast today in Washington.
The former House speaker credited his wife, Callista, and time they’ve spent together at her Washington, D.C., church for his conversion.
But Gingrich also attributed it to the “crisis of secularism” that the Catholic Church had fought against in Europe, and which he said is now creeping across the U.S.
“The American elites are guided by their desire to emulate the European elites, and as a result, anti-religious values and principles are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class in America,” he said.
Gingrich singled out a “coercive secularism dominating our courts” as particularly troublesome.
“The more I looked at this historic phenomenon, the more I had to come to grips with my own beliefs and my own tolerance of the increasingly aggressive secularization of our country,” he said.
“The depth of faith and history contained in the life of the Catholic Church were increasingly apparent to me. Slowly, over a decade, the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic Mass became more and more obvious to me.”
Gingrich also explained his conversation in a column for the National Catholic Register called “Why I Became Catholic.”
The public discussion of Gingrich’s faith comes as sources close to him say he is close to making a decision about his presidential candidacy, and is beginning a renewed push in early campaign states such as Iowa and South Carolina, where religious conservatives wield significant influence.
Some observers believe Gingrich’s newfound Catholicism, which came as he ought public forgiveness for his marital infidelity, could help his appeal among Christian voters by demonstrating that he has been “spiritually reborn.”
"Newt's conversion could affect his candidacy in an indirect way by helping him explain some of his decisions," Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, said of Gingrich's three marriages and confessed affair with a Capitol Hill staffer, who later became his wife.