Many questions are swirling about tonight's veep debate. Who will come away the victor? What hot-button issues will surface? How much will Paul Ryan be made to suffer for his past anti-Medicare comments?
But one question is already decided: the religion of the next vice-president of the United States. He will be Catholic, end of story.
Which raises another question: Why does nobody care that the next VP will be Catholic?
It is the first time in history that two Catholics have faced off for this second-in-command position. Moreoever, as the Washington Post reports, it's a throwdown that serves to highlight the increasing polarization of Catholics in America today:
The problem is that while both men want to try to win over the critical Catholic vote, both candidates have also been at odds with the Catholic hierarchy on different issues — Biden over abortion rights and gay rights, Ryan over budget plans that critics say contravene Catholic social justice principles on the common good and caring for the poor.
The debate showcases two very different styles of Catholicism, in a way that would have been unthinkable half a century earlier in the era of JFK. Then, Catholics banded together across ethnic, racial, and class lines to participate in a historic election that would propel one of their own into history. Today, other than the news reports that 100 Catholic moral theologians released a statement on Tuesday critiquing Ryan's libertarianism, the two candidates' Catholicism has been barely a blip on the nation's radar, in stark contrast to Mitt Romney's much-discussed Mormon faith.
The questions are not what they were in 1960: Will a Catholic leader answer to the pope first and the Constitution second? Will having a Catholic in the Oval Office, or a heartbeat away from it, promote the cause of Catholicism to the exclusion of other religions? Can Catholics be "real" Americans? Those questions sound downright silly when speaking about Catholicism in 2012, because we've been there, done that, and the sky didn't fall in.
Perhaps Mormons, who have faced all of those questions this year from the likes of Garry Wills and others who ought to know better, can take comfort in the fact that in half a century, their religion will follow this same model: people will care not that a candidate is Mormon, but what kind of Mormon she is.
Pass the popcorn and set your DVR.
The image of Joe Biden is used from the RNS Archives.