Pope Francis and President Trump Won’t Be Meeting in May

Time constraints prevent an encounter in Rome around the time of a G7 Summit in Sicily; meanwhile speculation mounts that Callista Gingrich is soon to be appointed the next U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One after landing at MacDill, AFB, FL, Feb. 6, 2017.
President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One after landing at MacDill, AFB, FL, Feb. 6, 2017. (photo: Wikipedia)

U.S. President Donald Trump will not be meeting Pope Francis when he visits Italy next month for a summit of world leaders, but the two men are expected meet at a later date.

The President will be attending a May 26-27 summit of leaders from the G7 group of industrialized nations in Sicily, but sources have told the Register that the meeting offers too little time for a trip to Rome as it is immediately preceded by a NATO meeting in Brussels, and then followed by the Memorial Day holiday on May 29 — an event that Trump, who highly values the nation’s military, is anxious not to miss.

Diplomatic sources are therefore stressing that the dashed speculation of a Trump-Francis encounter is not a snub or a wish to avoid any possible awkwardness, but due to logistical and time constraints. They say a meeting will happen, it’s just not clear when.

But that did not prevent some from pointing out that Trump’s no-show at the Vatican next month will make him the first U.S. president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to make his maiden official voyage to Italy without seeing the Pontiff.

Differences between the two leaders have also been highlighted: as in the past, the President and the Pope disagree on some policy areas, and in their cases on migration and climate change in particular.

Without naming President Trump directly, the Pope has said building walls rather than bridges, and especially having others pay for such walls, is not Christian — comments taken as clear disapproval of Trump’s plan to have Mexico pay to build a wall on the border to keep out illegal immigrants.

In answer to a question on Trump on the day of his inauguration, the Pope also criticized populism as paving the way for Nazism — remarks seen as another criticism of the new American leader’s style of politics, although some say it was more directed at the rise of parties in Europe often deemed to be “far-right.”  

Trump’s executive orders halting immigration from several, mainly Muslim, countries, and his opposition to the Paris climate deal are also viewed as running contrary to the Pope’s wishes. However, the two leaders appear to have converging views on issues related to life and religious freedom.

President Barack Obama met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in July 2009, 18 months after he had taken office, and then had a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican in March 2014.

Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, met Pope St. John Paul II at Castel Gandolfo in July 2001, six months after taking office, and then made three subsequent visits to the Vatican: in 2002 and 2004 to meet John Paul II, and in 2007 to meet Benedict XVI. So relatively frequent were his trips to Rome that some began to wonder if Bush, a Methodist, might eventually be received into the Church.

Roosevelt made his first visit to Italy in 1943 when he inspected allied installations in Sicily. But most of Italy was occupied by Germany at the time and so a trip to Rome was impossible. Woodrow Wilson was the first US president to meet a pope at the Vatican, when he called in on Benedict XV in 1919.


Ambassador Gingrich?

A further factor, although not vital for a pope and a president to meet in Rome, is that of having a U.S. ambassador to the Holy See in office. So far, one has yet to be appointed and the embassy is currently run by a chargés d’affairs, although sources in Rome and Washington say that Callista Gingrich, the wife of former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is now the expected candidate.

One informed source told the Register they would be “very surprised” if Mrs. Gingrich was not appointed, and that the announcement is expected very soon. Newt Gingrich was one of Trump’s most vocal supporters during last year’s presidential campaign.

Callista Gingrich (née Bisek) is a Catholic of Polish-Swiss ancestry who, after working in Congress and marrying Newt, went on to host a number of documentaries as part of Gingrich Productions, including the film Nine Days That Changed the Worlda tribute to the role Pope St. John Paul II played in the fall of Communism in Europe and in the rise of the Solidarity movement.

An author of children's books, Mrs. Gingrich also sings in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and last October, she and her fellow choristers performed in Rome.

Another leading candidate mentioned as a potential ambassador has been William Simon, a pro-life Catholic businessman, philanthropist and a Knight of Malta who ran for election as Governor of California in 2002.