Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI retires this week, and his successor will face a variety of challenges - including the Catholic Church in the United States.

FOX News Radio's Hank Weinbloom has the first part of our special FOX News Radio series:

Pope Challenges

(Prayer) "In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Peace be with you."

The Catholic Church is the largest denomination in America - nearly 78 million strong, about 1-out-of-4 Americans are Catholic.  The first missionaries arrived with Christopher Columbus.  Missionaries from Spain and France spread the gospel, but the Catholic population exploded in the 19th century with immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Poland, and more recently from Latin America.  Still, Catholics encountered bigotry in the U.S. for many years.

(President Kennedy) "Because I am a Catholic..."

It took until 1960 for a Catholic president to be elected, and even then, John F. Kennedy had to assure voters.

(President Kennedy) "No Catholic prelate will tell the President, should he be Catholic, how to act."

American Catholics do not always stick to church teachings - many go their own way on issues like birth control, divorce, even abortion.  But American Catholics love their Popes, filling sports stadiums for visits.  Building upon that love will be one of the challenges the next Pope will face.

Hank Weinbloom, FOX News Radio.