How many members of the new Congress are Catholic?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat from New York, takes a selfie with Democratic Representatives Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire and Barbara Lee of California on the first day of the 116th Congress on Jan. 3. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is one of 28 new Catholic members of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat from New York, takes a selfie with Democratic Representatives Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire and Barbara Lee of California on the first day of the 116th Congress on Jan. 3. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is one of 28 new Catholic members of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Hours before being sworn in, many senators and representatives of the 116th Congress gathered inside St. Peter’s Catholic Church, just steps from the U.S. Capitol, for a multi-faith, bipartisan prayer meeting Thursday morning. Patrick Conroy, S.J., the chaplain to the House of Representatives, offered an opening prayer, which was followed by a number of spiritual readings from new and returning members.

Representative Susan Wild, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, read from the Book of Genesis. Representatives Phil Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, and Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota, led the singing of “Here I Am, Lord.” There were readings from the Bhagavad-Gita, the Book of Psalms, the New Testament and Thomas Merton’s writings. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, read an Islamic invocation. Members from both parties offered prayers and the 30-minute service concluded with the song “America the Beautiful.”


The service reflected a gradually rising religious diversity as Congress becomes a bit more representative of the U.S. population as a whole. But the institution still harkens back to a different time in the United States, with nearly nine in 10 members identifying as Christian.

The institution still harkens back to a different time in the United States, with nearly nine in 10 members identifying as Christian.

According to an analysis released on Jan. 3 by the Pew Research Center, about 88 percent of Congress identifies as Christian, compared with just 71 percent of all U.S. adults. Catholics now make up 30.5 percent of Congress; 21 percent of U.S. adults identify as Catholic.

Democrats, including newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are more likely than Republicans to identify as Catholic. More than a third of congressional Democrats (35 percent) are Catholic, while just over a quarter of Republicans (26 percent) identify as Catholic. Compared with the two previous Congresses, which saw the number of Catholic Democrats and Republicans about equal, the new Congress sees a large gap, with 86 Catholic Democrats and 55 Catholic Republicans. But this change is mostly attributable to the Democrats gaining at least 40 seats in the House (with one race yet to be decided).

Catholics make up majorities of congressional delegations from six states—Alaska, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont—and half of the delegations from Iowa, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Two Catholic Democratic women who lost Senate elections, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, were replaced by two Protestant Republican men, Josh Hawley and Kevin Cramer.

Of the 96 newly elected members of Congress, 78 are Christian, including 28 who are Catholic. Overall, there are 141 Catholics in the House, or 32 percent of the chamber; 22 of the 100 U.S. senators are Catholic.

Overall, there are 141 Catholics in the House, or 32 percent of the chamber; 22 of the 100 U.S. senators are Catholic.

The first two Muslim women elected to Congress were sworn in Tuesday, bringing the total of Muslim House members to three. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, join Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana. There are 34 Jews in the new Congress, along with two Buddhists, three Hindus and three Unitarian Universalists.

U.S. Politics Catholic Discussion Group
Facebook Group · 611 members
Join Group
Discuss politics with other America readers.

But religious diversity in the new Congress is mostly relegated to one party. Republican members of the Senate and House are 99.2 percent Christian and 0.8 percent Jewish. Congressional Democrats are also mostly Christian, at 78.3 percent, but all 29 members who are non-Christian and non-Jewish, or who did not volunteer a religious affiliation, are Democrats.

A notable discrepancy between the new Congress and the general population has to do with those who are not affiliated with a church. Just one new member, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, identifies as religiously unaffiliated. That makes just 0.2 percent of the new Congress part of the so-called nones, compared with 23 percent of the U.S. adult population.

But Pew notes that 18 members of the new Congress, or 3.4 percent, are classified as “don’t know/refused.” They are all Democrats. Additionally, 80 members of Congress, or 15 percent, identify as “Protestant” but do not identify with a specific denomination, compared to just 5 percent of U.S. adults. Of that group, 51 are Republicans.

Just one new member, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, identifies as religiously unaffiliated.

According to Pew, the percentage of Catholics in the last four congresses has remained stable, at around 31 percent. That is far higher than the 19 percent of Catholics who comprised the 87th Congress in 1961, just after the election of President John F. Kennedy. Six percent of Congress identify as Jewish, up from about 2 percent during the 1960s. The share of members who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is down in the new Congress to 10 members, the lowest since 1979.

The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities reported on Jan. 3 that 10 percent of Congress—12 senators and 43 representatives—are alumni of a dozen Jesuit colleges and universities. Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., counts 28 alumni in the new Congress, with another half dozen each from Boston College and Fordham University.

As for priorities important to Catholic leaders, it remains unclear if the new Congress, in which Democrats control the House and Republicans the Senate, will be able to make any progress.

The previous Congress, with both chambers controlled by Republicans, was largely sympathetic to President Donald Trump’s agenda, U.S. Catholic bishops issued a number of statements opposed to Mr. Trump and the Republican leadership’s policy proposals in immigration, health care and taxes. They were supportive of some measures that they said were in harmony with the church’s views on life issues.

With Democrats now in charge of the House, it is possible that bishops and other church leaders will find themselves shifting gears in terms of advocacy. House Democrats may seek to protect access to abortion, which church leaders oppose. But they may find more common ground when it comes to economic and immigration issues.

Quincy Howard, O.P., a government relations staffer for the Catholic social-justice oriented advocacy group Network, told America that her group feels “hopeful” and that there are some “solid allies to work with” in the House. She said Network supports HR1, a bill Democrats plan to introduce that includes several political reforms, including publicly financed elections, voter rights and anti-corruption measures. Network, which sponsored a bus tour during the election calling out members who supported the Republican-backed tax overhaul, said it will also advocate for immigration reform, an increase in the federal minimum wage and additional reforms of the criminal justice system.

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story stated, “House Democrats may seek to protect access to abortion, which many Catholic leaders oppose.” The phrase “many Catholic leaders” was imprecise; it was not meant to refer only to church leaders, or to imply that some church leaders do not follow the church’s teachings against abortion.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Frank Pray
1 year 8 months ago

The issue is abortion. The debate has pretty well produced a list of opposing “facts” and arguments on the issue, including scientific, sociological, and moral. The essence of the opposing positions seems to be how a “person” is defined in order to receive or be denied equal protection of the laws. Elevate your game. Respond in some original way to the issue, and you may change my thinking, at least somewhat.

Frank T
1 year 8 months ago

I have no need to change your thinking.
Your perspective is borne out of being a white, male, roman catholic, likely in your 70s, who has lived life in a certain way.
You are comfortable with a certain traditional outlook.
You have not lived as a young single woman out in the world.
You don't menstruate, you don't lactate, you don't deal with issues of the female body.
You don't live with the potential of rape or the likelihood of potential encounters that are unwarranted on a daily basis.
You are not given mixed signals by a culture that still doesn't trust women in positions of leadership.
You mask the potential for independent thought behind church dogma, as though living in the twelfth century.
Are YOU making pronouncements as a scientist? a sociologist? a moralist? Please.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 8 months ago

Frank T - this is injustice by identity. Like a southerner in nineteenth century America saying a northerner should butt out because he doesn't understand how important slaves are to his well-being. You are stuck in the past. As to the future, all the pro-abortionists and other sexual revolutionaries are having less and less children. That is their whole cultural suicidal point. You reveal the same by your racist & religious denigration. But, killing one's own (by abortion or euthanasia) is a demographic dead-end, never the future.

rose-ellen caminer
1 year 8 months ago

Abortion on demand which is legal in the US, is a human rights issue.You are parroting cliches that pro abortion people make against the anti abortion Catholic Church. There is a lot wrong in the Church but you really want a church that says it is right and just to dismember unto death limb from limb unborn- capable- of -suffering humans?Get real! Even though one of the pro abortion tactics is to deny the reality of the suffering and murder that goes on in the Planned Parenthood "facilities,"you don't need to prove you're a bona fide feminist by blinding yourself to the reality of abortion.

Crystal Watson
1 year 8 months ago

Of course the Catholics who are Democrats will protect women's right to choose - that's the party's platform. What the church fails to accept is that most Catholics, including politicians, don't agree with the church on a whole boat load of issues, including abortion.

Frank Pray
1 year 8 months ago

I think the Church is aware that many Catholics support abortion, of if you prefer, “freedom of choice.” But biblical and traditional teaching does not depend on popular votes, but truth.

Crystal Watson
1 year 8 months ago

But there is no biblical back-up for the church's stance on abortion. And Authority is mixed ... many in the early church didn't think fetuses were ensouled at conception but at some later date. The church seems to have made up many of its teachings on sexual/gender issues out of whole cloth.

Tim Donovan
1 year 8 months ago

Hello, Crystal. There may well not be any statements in the Bible specifically about abortion but it is,clear that God is the Creator of all life, and made human beings in His image and likeness. However, God became a man in the Person of Jesus, who was "conceived by the Holy Spirit." I think the fact that Jesus began His life on earth as a human zygote ( who grew,into an embryo, fetus, and continued developing through aduothood) provides substantial evidence that God considers the unborn from conception to be valuable. I do realize that many in the early Church didn't_believe that the unborn had souls at conception. However, surely Church leaders at that time many, many centuries ago were basing their views not on science but on archaic evidence (the appearance of the unborn at different states of development, etc.) Also, the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) which according to Wikipedia is dated by most modern scholars as being composed in the first century, among other teachings stated that "you may not murder a,child by abortion..." Also, there are at least two indirect references to abortion in the Bible that demonstrates that God considers the unborn to be important. In Jeremiah 1 : 3, God said, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you." Also, in Psalms 1 39: 13-14, Scripture tells us, "For you formed my late boost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." It's true that St. Thomas Aquinas didn't _believe that the soul entered the body at conception, but later in pregnancy. However, he did believe that regardless of whether or not the soul was present in the unborn, that abortion was gravely immoral. Also, Aquinas, one of the premier theologians in Church history, believed that the soul entered an unborn baby/fetus at 40 days after conception for males, and 80 days after conception for females. I think this demonstrates that this otherwise learned 13th century saint and philosopher lacked knowledge,of biology as,known today. (I also would find it surprising and ironic that any feminist would support Aquinas' opinion that men receive souls earlier than women(!). Finally, the Bible in my view doesn't have references or teachings about all subjects. Also, if you believe as I do (and is the traditional teaching of our faith) that the Pope is the successor of Peter, the first Pope, then ultimately the,Pope, in union with the bishops, has authority regarding the authentic interpretation of the Bible.

Crystal Watson
1 year 8 months ago

These bible verses don't prove anything except to those who already have certain beliefs about the unborn. If God so cherishes fetuses, why are there so many spontaneous abortions? If God knits us in the womb, he must have dropped a few stitches for those who are born disabled. If the fact that Jesus was a human being who was first a fetus makes fetuses worth saving, what does it say that Adolf Hitler was a fetus too?

Tim Donovan
1 year 8 months ago

Yes, there are numerous spontaneous abortions. However, I don't think the fact that many human beings in a particular circumstance die means that God doesn't think highly of those human lives. After all, in some "Third World" countries which lack good health care, or who lack the resources to take good care of their people, a large number of young children die. However, I don't think the fact that there are so many deaths among these children means that God doesn't cherish those children . It's unfortunate that you apparently have very negative feelings about disabled people, because of your "clever" but sarcastic reference to God having "dropped a few stitches" when someone is born disabled. As a retired Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage and physical disabilities, some of whom had behavior disorders, I don't believe that their lives, despite the challenges they often face, make them less worthy of legal protection of simply respect. I believe that the tendency of the so-called abortion rights movement to emphasize fetal disability as a justification for abortion denotes a discriminatory attitude towards people who are disabled. Adolph Hitler was certainly a human being who was responsible for the deliberate, cruel killings of some 11 million people. However, I believe that God is the ultimate judge of our acts. And the Church has never said that any particular individual is in hell. It may be unlikely, but conceivable that at the final moments of his life that Hitler regretted his decision to commit suicide and even may have asked forgiveness for his monstrous acts. No one knows, and so as unlikely as it may be, I do believe that a repentant Adolph Hitler may not have been sent to hell. After all, I think it's worthwhile to recall Jesus' words at the conclusion of the parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus ended the parable by saying, "I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents , than over 99 righteous people who need no repentance." ( Luke 15:7). God, in n the Person of Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, could have come across not the world as an adult, a King (which I believe was the expectation of most Jews, that the Messiah would be a King). However, Jesus chose to become a tiny, defenseless fetus (who began his earthly life when he was conceived, as a zygote). I do believe that it's significant that Jesus chose to become a human being like us "in all things but sin." Therefore , I believe that the fact that Jesus came into the world as a fetus ( " young one") demonstrates that He sees unborn human life as worthy of respect.

Crystal Watson
1 year 8 months ago

I don't have a bad view of disabled people - I AM a disabled person. I was born with Stargardt disease, a retinal impairment that makes me legally blind.

Michael Koopman
1 year 8 months ago

You also appear to be blind to the truth, Crystal. Each individual is formed at conception as science leads us to understand. The Bible is not a science book and is not consulted for explicit statements of law on abortion or any other questions in such a way. Common law is the legal core of western societies in general even when The Bible is held out for an oath.
Why would you apply poor Bible legalism to support what you must know in your heart of hearts to be wrong? You must know this because abortion is intrinsic evil and a right formed conscience will not accept such evil without closing one's eyes, your inner mind, under the wickedness and snares of the devil.
It is that plain and that simple. Abortion is intrinsically evil and this leaves no room for prudential judgment in this matter. Do not remain blind, Crystal, but have faith and see.

Tim Donovan
1 year 8 months ago

Yes, I 'm a man, but I believe that I still have a valid right to speak out about abortion. First, there are various matters that people (in my view) have a right to speak about, even though they don't have any apparent connection to the particular issue. For instance, women weren't subject to the draft during the Vietnam War. However, many women (rightly) protested the war. They were concerned about their husbands, boyfriends , grandsons, nephews, and neighbors. Also , although I 'm not a father, but I 'm a retired Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage and physical disabilities and many had behavior disorders. It was challenging, but I enjoy spending time with my students and doing my best to educate them. Also, my brother and sister have four children between them. My nephew and nieces are now adults, but I enjoyed helping to raise them by often babysitting and taking them to various places (the playground, out to eat at restaurants, the zoo and spending time with them playing games, as well as the "basics" of feeding and dressing them, changing their diapers, etc.). With respect, I don't think one needs to be a,parent to care about children and he involved in their lives.

Tim Donovan
1 year 8 months ago

With due modesty, I consider myself to be a fairly devout Catholic who tries my best to follow the teachings of Jesus as interpreted by the Church. . Because inevitably I have my weak points and commit sins, I usually go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation each month. However, I 'm not very much interested in the number of Catholics in Congress. Rather, I 'm much more concerned with how many members-regardless of their religion-favor principles regarding political issues that I support.

Tom Liner
1 year 8 months ago

Christians who supported the Nazis or Communists in the past (or Democrats today). They either do not believe what the Church teaches or they don't practice what they preach. Their god is a lesser god than the one revealed by our Lord, Jesus Christ.


The latest from america

Sixth-graders sit at their desks on the first day of classes of the new academic year at Our Lady of Victory School in Floral Park, N.Y., on Sept. 8. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
With many public schools still in virtual mode, parents are taking a new look at Catholic education. But Michael O’Loughlin reports that the reprieve from declining enrollment may be temporary.
Michael J. O’LoughlinSeptember 22, 2020
The 16th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast is dividing Catholics along partisan lines because it will honor President Trump's attorney general a little more than a month before the November election.
Thomas J. ReeseSeptember 22, 2020
The judges are Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appellate court judge in Chicago, and Barbara Lagoa, a federal appeals court judge in Atlanta.
Why are there so many Catholics on the nation’s highest court?
Allyson EscobarSeptember 21, 2020