From Roll Call:
Six decades after John F. Kennedy became the first Roman Catholic president, his political ascent still reverberates in the American electorate. Generations of Catholics who had long been marginalized in the political process were emboldened to seek office, prompting a wave of Catholic lawmakers in the decades that followed.
Academic observers attribute the rising influence of Catholics to a new prominence in public life that emerged after Kennedy’s election. The number of Catholics in Congress has risen by roughly 50 percent since the Kennedy administration and in recent years Catholics have consistently been the single largest religious denomination in Congress.
Members of all Christian faiths — a wide swath that includes Baptists, Episcopalians, Mormons and those unaffiliated with a specific denomination — equate to 87 percent of Congress. But it is Catholics, the biggest denomination among the Christian faiths, that will hold 29 percent of the seats in the 117th Congress and two of the most powerful offices in government. With President-elect Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi both Catholic, there will be a power dynamic not seen since the early 1960s when Kennedy and John W. McCormack made history as the first Catholic president and speaker.
The number of Catholics in Congress has risen by roughly 50 percent since the Kennedy administration.
“It’s emblematic of this long-term trend of Catholics running for office, getting elected to office, staying in office and being politically successful to the point that you could have so many Catholics in positions of power in Congress,” said Matthew Green, who chairs the Politics Department at Catholic University of America.
…The rise of Catholics in Congress has even outpaced the number of followers of the faith in the nation. Pew Research Center’s 2019 Religious Landscape Study found only 20 percent of Americans identify as Catholic, compared to 29 percent of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Congress often is a lagging indicator of the changing religious makeup of the country,” Green said. He noted that Catholics were historically underrepresented in the Congress until the later part of the mid-twentieth century.