Some interesting observations from Roll Call:
It will be the most Catholic Congress ever that hears from Pope Francis — and, as of this month, the first with as many Republican as Democratic members of the church.
Two decades ago, the year before Speaker John A. Boehner initially became part of the GOP leadership and started working to arrange a papal visit, 27 percent of lawmakers were Roman Catholic but only a third of them were Republicans like him. One generation and a pair of papacies later, the Ohioan’s vision is about to become a reality in a Capitol with very different faith demographics.
While the nation and its federal legislators have become more religiously diverse overall, the congressional Catholic population has grown steadily: 31 percent of today’s lawmakers say they belong to the church, but only 22 percent of their constituents do.
And the expansion of the papal flock on the Hill has been disproportionately on the Republican side of the aisle. That was underscored by the most recent special election, which sent Darin LaHood to the House as the newest congressman from downstate Illinois. He becomes the 83rdRoman Catholic in the GOP ranks — matching exactly the number of Democrats in the 114thCongress who recognize the pope as their spiritual leader.
Such parity between the parties has looked inevitable for decades, says Michael Sean Winters, a senior journalist at the National Catholic Reporter and the author of “Left at the Altar: How Democrats Lost the Catholics and How Catholics Can Save the Democrats.”
“When the Democrats became obsessed with identity politics, a large group of white working-class people felt abandoned and started checking out the other team,” he says. “The election of so many more Republican Catholics in recent years is one result.”
A symbolic reflection of the new equality will appear on TV screens worldwide on Sept. 24, when Francis transforms the House chamber’s rostrum into a papal pulpit for the first time. Sitting behind him will be a Catholic titular president of the Senate, Democratic Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.; alongside Boehner, who is continuing his religion’s modern dominance of the speakership. (Six of the 11 people elected to preside over the House since World War II have been Catholic; a seventh, Republican Newt Gingrich, held the post as a Baptist but has since converted.)
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