The Basilica of St. John in Des Moines, Iowa “reluctantly” canceled an event with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, saying it had become too political and the church couldn’t handle the expected crowds.
“This was supposed to be strictly a religious event honoring Pope John Paul II,” Dwayne Weuve, the basilica’s business manager, told Politico. “But because of the influence of the news media, it was obvious it was going to be something other than we hoped it would be.”
“We were reluctantly forced to cancel,” he said.
Gingrich and his wife Callista were invited to screen their documentary about John Paul II, “Nine Days That Changed the World,” and to speak about the late pontiff on May 16.
The Des Moines Register had first said the cancellation came because Gingrich is now weighing a run for the presidency and his speech could be considered a “conflict of interest.” Iowa is historically a key state for the presidential primaries.
Wueve said that “outside influences” were shifting the focus of an event intended to be “strictly religious,” while the basilica also lacks funds for a high turnout and required security.
The church still intends to screen the documentary, but without Gingrich.
Gingrich converted to Catholicism in 2009. In April he addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
His documentary discusses Pope John Paul II’s visit to his native Poland in the first year of his pontificate and the transformative role that visit played in the fall of Soviet communism.