Faith Count in Congress

With 156 Catholics in the House and Senate, Catholics make up almost 30% of the 112th assemby, according to Pew.

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — An analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life found that Catholics are one of several denominations whose representation in Congress exceeds their representation in the U.S. population.

Pew reported that with 156 Catholics in the House and Senate, Catholics make up 29.2% of the 112th Congress.

By comparison, Catholics make up 23.9% of all U.S. adults, according to the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study, conducted in 2007.

Also represented in Congress in numbers greater than their numbers among the U.S. population of adults are Protestants overall, Jews and Mormons, according to the Pew Forum study, issued Jan. 6.

Numbering 304 out of the 535 members of the new Congress, Protestants comprise 56.8% of Congress versus 51.3% of U.S. adults. The 39 Jews in Congress account for 7.3% of lawmakers versus 1.7% of U.S. adults. The 15 Mormons make up 2.8% of Congress; 1.7% of adults are Mormons.

Within Protestantism, Methodists make up 9.5% of Congress, compared to 6.1% of U.S. adults; Presbyterians, 8.4% versus 2.7% of adults; and Episcopalians, 7.7% versus 1.5%. The 58 members of Congress who do not specify a Christian denomination come to 10.8%, versus 5.1% of U.S. adults.

Among the Christian denominations underrepresented are Baptists (68 members, or 12.7% of Congress, compared to 17.2% of adults); nondenominational Protestants (two, 0.4% versus 4.5%) and Pentecostals (none, 0% versus 4.4%).

There are no members of Congress who claim no denominational affiliation, but Pew’s 2007 survey found that 16.1% of U.S. adults say they have no church membership.

The number of Catholics serving in the new Congress is down by five from the 111th Congress, when they made up 30.1% of the institution.

There are 24 Catholics in the Senate, 15 of them Democrats and nine Republicans. In the House, by Pew’s count, there are 132 Catholics, or 30.3% of all representatives. Sixty-nine of them are Democrats, and 63 are Republicans.

“Catholics comprise a higher percentage of newly elected members (36%) than of incumbent members (27%),” said an essay accompanying the analysis, “Faith on the Hill,” written by Tracy Miller, an editor with the Pew Forum.

A half-century ago, Catholics were the most populous denomination in Congress. The 87th Congress, seated in 1961 — which coincided with the first two years in office of the nation’s first and only Catholic president, John F. Kennedy — had 100 Catholics, or 18.8% of all members of Congress. Methodists had 97 members, or 18.2%.

The percentage of Catholics has climbed steadily over the ensuing decades. The 91st Congress of 1969-71 had 109 Catholic members, or 20.4%; the 96th Congress of 1979-81 had 129 Catholics, 24.2%; the 101st Congress of 1989-91 featured 139 Catholics, 26%; and the 106th Congress, 1999-2001, had 151 Catholics, 28.3%.

Since 1961, Catholics in Congress has grown by 56 members and 10.4 percentage points. No other denomination in the years studied registered triple digits in congressional membership or registered so large a gain of membership over the past 50 years.