The members of Congress from decades past who felt at home bringing their anti-Catholic hatred to the House floor surely wouldn’t recognize their old haunts this week. On Thursday, a pope—known to them simply as the Antichrist—will address a joint meeting of Congress for the first time.
It’s not just that Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, will be the guest of honor on Capitol Hill. It’s that the longtime roost of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists is now a very friendly place for Catholics, something that will be crystal clear to anyone tuning in to watch Francis’s address.
Seated behind the pontiff will be a Catholic vice president and a Catholic speaker of the House. Nearby will be the Catholic chaplain of the House. And escorting the pope to the rostrum will be the majority and minority leadership teams with Catholics as minority leader, majority whip, and Democratic caucus chairman.
It’s not much different out on the floor. When John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president in 1960, there were only nine other Catholics in the Senate; today there are 26—and 139 in the House. Then, there was one token Catholic on the Supreme Court; today six of the nine justices are Catholic and the Court includes not a single Protestant. Then, only one Catholic before Kennedy had ever won a major-party nomination for president or vice president; in the 2012 election, both vice-presidential nominees were Catholic. Additionally, seven of the current Republican candidates for president—Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, George Pataki, and Bobby Jindal—are Catholics.