Gingrich’s Marital Standard and Ours: In Health But Not Sickness

In his post yesterday about Newt Gingrich’s history of extra-marital affairs and divorces, my colleague Carson Holloway said that the former House speaker was guilty of personal moral failings, irresponsibility, and ignoble conduct. Like most Americans, I agree with Carson’s characterization of Gingrich’s behavior. But Carson’s post begs the question of what Gingrich’s infidelity and divorce revealed about his character. Were not the circumstances morally troubling?

I think they were. Gingrich’s extra-marital affairs didn’t begin in a vacuum. Both began when his wives were diagnosed with major illnesses. In his first marriage, Newt implied to a congressional aide that he wanted out because his wife was sick. As Bloomberg reported last month,

Jackie Gingrich was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 1978 and in the summer of 1980 was undergoing surgery on what turned out to be a benign tumor, according to her daughter’s online columns.

Adamson said she later asked him why he wanted the divorce. “Jackie can’t run uphill,” she recalled him saying, which she took to mean that his wife was overweight and ill, not a plus for an aspiring national politician.

Gingrich’s second marriage appears to have followed the same trajectory. According to his wife Marianne, Gingrich asked her for a divorce a few months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Critics have piled on Gingrich for his infidelity and divorces, and he too has expressed contrition for his conduct. But nobody has pointed out that Gingrich is only the latest public figure who shucked his spouse due to his or her illness.

Former senator John Edwards is a case in point. He started his affair with Rielle Hunter more than a year after his wife, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with breast cancer. And husbands aren’t alone in ditching their wives when the latter get sick. In a Washington Post Magazine article, Page Melton Ivie acknowledged that she began her affair with her second husband after her first husband had a heart attack and brain injury.

To religious conservatives, Gingrich, Edwards, and Melton Ivie are equally culpable of adultery and unjustified divorce. There is no moral distinction among them. But to some religious progressives and bobos, Melton Ivie’s case was different. Instead of abandoning her husband altogether, she and her new husband visit with him several times a week in a hospice care facility near their new home. That makes her conduct moral. While Gingrich and Edwards were low lifes and dogs, Melton Ivie was a moral paragon.

Her first husband’s family members agree. His father, stepmother, and brother attended Melton Ivie’s wedding. But what did the sick ex-spouse think? While Robert Melton was quoted approving of his wife’s divorce and remarriage, he was also quoted referring to her as his wife and he did not attend her wedding. In other words, he is so sick that determining his opinion is impossible.

That’s the reality of the personal-happiness standard of marriage: When one spouse becomes seriously ill, the other spouse ends the marital relationship and begins a new one. There is no do-or-die commitment. The healthy move on and the sick are moved on. It’s a Darwinian morality, and Gingrich was one of its many practitioners.



  • ChronicSinner

    First of all, it must be stated, than NO CATHOLIC in good conscience has the standing to question the validity of Mr. Gingrich’s current marriage, as that has been vetted by a competent marriage tribunal and deemed worthy of the Sacrament of Matrimony. In other words, on this point, the Tribunal has spoken…end of story.

    Concerning whether the facts surrounding his previous marital conduct should be completely forgotten or dismissed in regards to his quest for public office, those facts are certainly fair game. While I fully agree with those in this forum who cite God’s mercy in forgiving and forgetting ones sins, that merciful amnesia extends to the ETERNAL punishment associated with sin. There is still a TEMPORAL punishment that must be paid, as God is not only all merciful, he is also all just. The Church clearly teaches that although the eternal punishment for sin is completely forgiven via Our Lord’s attoning Sacrfice on the Cross as a fruit of the Sacrament of Pennance or a perfect Act of Contrition, the temporal punishment still persists and must be paid in this life or in Purgatory (or a combination of both). Hence, for an individual to take Mr. Gingrich’s previous conduct into account and therefore withhold his or her vote is completely appropriate, particularly in the primary season where there are at least 2 other morally stronger choices for we Catholics to consider.

    However, although I will not be supporting the former Speaker in the primaries, I would have no problem in voting for him in November, despite his marital baggage, since his checkered moral past PALES in comparison to our President’s checkered moral present (and past for that matter). In other words, given a choice between a man who cheated on 2 wives and is a serial repentant adulterer versus a man who is rabidly pro-choice, who has failed to support the DOMA, and who wants to force Catholics to violate the teachings of their Faith by subsidizing abortion/contraceptives/sterilizations…well, all I can say is all choices should be that easy.

  • Angela Lessard

    In the tradition of the Church, when someone sins publicly, they repent publicly. And in some cases they are prevented from taking positions of honor. A priest who leaves the priesthood, for instance, cannot serve in some capacities in a parish, even though he is eminently suited/trained for it. So it does not follow that those who distrust Gingrich for his past are distrusting the mercy of God. Grace works on nature. Further, to the electability question, if you think that believing Gingrich is a changed man is a question of properly understanding the doctrine of forgiveness, then how are we going to convince the rest of the country, that doesn’t have the confidence in the power of the confessional that we do?

  • kevin

    Are we now into tracking all the moral failures people engaged in prior to their conversion???

    Conversion–grace–the deepening relationship with Christ –the sacraments — with the grace that comes with a valid sacramental marriage–the whole reality of the Church –etc ought to be heavily counted into the question of where he is now. (watch the interview in 2010 on World Over Live on EWTN)

    Early Christian…first century…

    “I don’t know guys…he stood not long ago with all the cloaks at his feet while they stoned Stephen…and then he got all the documents to go and start rounding us up…even my brother Levi was taken right from his bed…I don’t trust that guys Character..and he certainly ought not be in any position of leadership….who cares that he now calls himself Paul instead of Saul…we he his character”

    Granted the encounter and way of the conversion was different here. Paul is a special case sure. But we need to take into account the reality of grace and the renewal of the mind and life that has taken place in our Brother Newt.

    I think it is unfair to pointing to such pre-conversion events -inferring that such is him now. His Standard now I would say after his coming to know the truth…and encountering Christ in the Church –is in sickness and in health..til death do us part.

    The presumption here must stand with such.

    Let all of us remember too that we should “be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way” (CCC 2478)

    He is committed to the Church…to his Wife…and to the Country. I take my brother at his word.


  • Joyce H

    Gingrich was on The World Over (EWTN) a few weeks ago with his present wife. I really believe he has changed from the man he used to be. I would trust him more than any other candidate and I think he has the best chance to bet Obama

    • kevin

      Exactly! I too saw it and one could see how much peace and joy he now has ..and it was wonderful to hear him speak of Christ that way.

  • catholic wife and mother

    I dont agree with those who say we who are saying Newt Gingrichs horrible past actions of abandoning two wives, one with his two children, Having not one but two affairs, all the other ethics issues hes had. is being judgemental.?
    It matters. Past behavior does usually have a clue as to what you will get in the future.
    This is the person that we Republicans think is moral, Ethical, and responsible to lead our country??
    As if there isnt any other candidate more ethical.
    How someone treats their spouse (s) DOES MATTER> TO say otherwise is an insult. It matters to the children whos families are torn apart.
    Marriage is sacred.
    It is already under attack due to 40 years of no fault divorce laws that have weakened it to the point where any spouse can just abandon the other for no reason. take away their home, every thing they have worked together for , destroy their credit, take the children away from the faithful spouse.
    a man/ or woman for that matter- who would use people in this way is not someone that I for one could ever Vote for.
    As a Catholic i know that our Lord Forgives in the sacrament of reconciliation.
    But especially as a Catholic I do believe that we deserve better.
    we deserve a president and first lady who are not both adulterers.
    I pray that we do not reach a new low in our country to elect Newt Gingrich.
    For so many in this country to support him as our leading candidate is an insult to those of us whos spouses are following his horrible immoral behavior and abandoning their vows for no good reason.
    other than like him- in search of a newer and better model.
    our country, our children deserve better.
    think of the message we are sending the next generation- that fidelity to ones’ marriage does not matter.!



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