In September 2015, Pope Francis arrived to a country where six of the nine Supreme Court justices at the time were Catholic, the Vice President Joe Biden was Catholic, as was then-Speaker of the House John Boehner, and fully 30 percent of all the members of Congress, in addition to Secretary of State John Kerry.
It sounds like a very healthy quota. It is estimated that 70 million of the 350 million residents of the US are Catholic.
It will be a source of satisfaction to Francis that the biggest growth area in America will be people from Latin America; Hispanics are the fastest growing segment.
A measure of how far the Catholic church has come was contained in an observation in The New York Times on the speech to the Joint Session of Congress by Pope Francis.
“Not that long ago, the prospect of the head of the Catholic Church addressing Congress would have been unthinkable. Catholics in politics were a source of suspicion and a subject of slander for generations. Even as John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic elected president, he felt compelled to defend his faith by asserting that he would not take orders from the pope.”
Yet, despite the glowing figures and the massive impression that Francis has made, there is still clear evidence that Catholics have been vastly underrepresented in the two most important jobs of all: President and Vice President.
John F. Kennedy of course broke that first barrier, but his Catholicism almost doomed him and was widely viewed as a liability. Since his assassination, no Catholic has been close to becoming president again – an extraordinary state of affairs.
I learned to my surprise that Joe Biden is the first Catholic Vice President of the United States, again a real indictment of the religious prejudice against the faith that existed for generations especially in the south, which historically had preachers paint the pope as the devil incarnate.
This time around, Martin O'Malley was the only Catholic on the Democratic side, but his candidacy was a real long shot and ultimately unsuccessful.
Jeb Bush, a convert to Catholicism, was the only Republican contender of Catholic background and is now also out of the race.
Marco Rubio at one point was Catholic but joined another denomination, and now those left in the race – or at least those who matter – are solid Protestant.
No Jews have been elected to either post, although Al Gore's running mate Joe Liebermann came very close to being VP.
There has never been an Italian and certainly no Hispanic, yet there has been an African American, showing that America nowadays is well capable of putting aside prejudice when choosing a president.
But in the long and glorious history of the United States it nonetheless remains a fact that John Kennedy and Joe Biden are aberrations rather than the norm.
It is truly amazing when you see the massive popularity of Catholics like JFK and Francis across all creeds and come to understand just how popular their humanitarian rather than doctrinaire message is.
It can surely only be a matter of time before there are many successors to JFK and Biden in the top jobs. No doubt with the number of Hispanic politicians increasing it may well be one of them and that would be very welcome.
America needs to reflect its diversity and showcase the remarkable melting pot that created this great nation.
I firmly believe that Francis's visit will help that project along and having more Catholics in the mix will be a positive.
What do you think the chances are of having another Catholic president? Does it surprise you that there has only been one Catholic president and Vice President? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.
* Originally published in Sept 2015; updated March 2016.