How many Catholic presidents have there been?

President Biden’s faith is an important part of his life

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Wednesday 20 January 2021 18:23 GMT
Then vice president Joe Biden with Pope Francis at the US Capitol in 2015
Then vice president Joe Biden with Pope Francis at the US Capitol in 2015 (AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden has become the second ever Catholic president of the United States.

Out of the 46 presidents since the inauguration of George Washington in 1789, the only other Catholic commander-in-chief was John F Kennedy.

Mr Kennedy’s Catholicism was a big issue in the 1960 presidential campaign due to perceived anti-Catholic prejudice and there were worries that it might handicap him in the campaign against Republican candidate Richard Nixon.

During the campaign, Mr Kennedy had to reassure voters that he would not let his faith impact his decision making, underlining a commitment to the separation of church and state.

Sixty years later, Mr Biden’s Catholic faith is very much an important part of who he is, and throughout the campaign and transition he was often photographed arriving at his local church to attend mass.

While it was thought that President Kennedy had opened the door for more Catholics to win national office, it was actually Mr Biden who was next to follow as vice president when the Obama-Biden ticket won the 2008 election, 48 years later.

But Mr Biden was not the first vice presidential candidate from the Catholic faith, indeed there were many, and in most cases their faith was seen as a balance to the top half of the ticket – always Protestant.

Before Mr Biden, that list includes William Miller, Barry Goldwater's 1964 running mate; Ed Muskie, Hubert Humphrey's 1968 running mate; Sargent Shriver, George McGovern's 1972 running mate; and Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's 1984 running mate.

Only one other Catholic has been on the top half of a presidential campaign – John Kerry in 2004, who lost the election to incumbent George W Bush.

Other notable Catholics who have run for the office of the presidency include Republicans Marco Rubio, who was brought up Catholic, became Mormon, then returned to the church; and Jeb Bush who converted to the faith.

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