As a "relatively recent" convert to Catholicism, Newt Gingrich called his speech at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington Wednesday morning, one of the "most daunting" he'd ever faced.

The former House Speaker told the crowd of hundreds that "American elites are guided by their desire to emulate European elites. And as a result anti-religious values are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class."

Mr. Gingrich, a potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate, spoke of what he called "secularist pressures" to change the term 'Anno Domini,' or AD to 'Common Era,' or CE.

"There is no ‘Common Era," said Gingrich. "The year 2011 is a Christian date."

The former Georgia congressman also lashed out at another sore spot for conservatives, what some call 'activist judges.'

"The courts have been especially powerful engines of coerced secularization, from the 1962 school prayer decision on," said Gingrich. "There has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization."

Gingrich also spoke about the documentary he produced with his wife Calista, "Nine Days That Changed The World."

The film is a look at the pilgrimage of Pope John Paul II to his native land of Poland in 1979.

At the time, Poland was ruled by the communist Soviet Union, which outlawed religious expression.

John Paul II's visit is credited as one of the events that eventually led to Poland's independence and the downfall of the Soviet Union.

"Imagine how hard it must have been for the Polish people, with a government that would not allow school prayer and kept tearing down crosses. It's hard to imagine that kind of government in a free society," said Gingrich, to a smattering of laughter in the room.