BOSTON — For only the second time in our nation’s 244-year-history, a Catholic has been elected to the highest office in the land. When he takes the oath of office in January, Joe Biden will join John F. Kennedy as the only Catholic presidents in U.S. history.
“Certainly Biden being elected president as a Catholic is a big deal historically, especially since there is a history of anti-Catholicism in this country, but I think what we have to realize is Catholicism in our country is much different now than it was in John F. Kennedy’s time,” said Mathew Schmalz, a professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross.
Biden, who is known to carry a rosary in his pocket and attends mass every Sunday, has had to contend with critics who point out that his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage puts him at odds with the teachings of his church. In his victory speech, Biden recalled the Catholic hymn “On Eagle’s Wings.” He said the song was important to his family after his son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015.
Father James Martin, who serves as an adviser to Pope Francis, tweeted that Biden’s use of the hymn made his phone buzz like crazy.
“This means four years of not only a Catholic president, but an injection of #catholic culture into our national conversation in a way probably not seen since JFK,” Father Martin tweeted.
Despite that, Schmalz said he doesn’t think it will move the needle when it comes to mass attendance, but it will likely move the needle on dialogue.
“In some ways this is a Catholic moment not only with Joe Biden being elected president, but with the majority members of the Supreme Court. There will be a lot of discussion about the place in Catholicism in public life,” Schmalz said.
Biden did not have a landslide victory with Catholic voters. According to the Associated Press, Biden and President Trump split the Catholic vote almost evenly.