Q&A: Where faith and politics intersect, Kimberly Hahn

Faith and politics often lead the list of topics people would rather avoid at social or family gatherings. And yet, it is precisely in the crossroads of these two realities that the Church asks Catholics to give active and faithful witness to Christ. For citizens, one of the opportunities to do so presents itself in the electoral process. But, what does this look like for a Catholic running for office?

Kimberly Hahn, renowned Catholic convert, author, wife, mother and now politician, shared with the Denver Catholic her approach and experience of meddling in politics as a Catholic — ahead of her presentation at the John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver on the intersection between faith and politics Feb. 13.

After retiring from 26 years of homeschooling her children, she was wondering what she would do next. Her husband, Scott, suggested, “Maybe it’s time for politics?” She launched her campaign and has served as Councilwoman-at-Large of Steubenville, Ohio, for nearly four years.

The interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Denver Catholic: How do you approach politics as a Catholic in the political world? 

Kimberly Hahn:  Some people approach politics as saying, “Everything is political.” I would approach politics saying, “Everything is spiritual.” That because I belong to Christ, every element of my life needs to be brought into relationship with him, and because I love him and I want to serve him, I was open to serving the public, as a public servant in politics.

I don’t believe that politicians are saviors, and that’s a problem, when either people who are in politics or the public, believe that. Lots of fair criticism comes at politicians, but one unfair criticism is, “You haven’t solved all the problems.”

DC: What principles guide your approach to political solutions?

KH: First and foremost is the dignity of the human person. I brought this into campaigning by knocking on almost 8,000 doors and we only have about 8,500 in Steubenville. People said, “Don’t waste your time, most of them aren’t registered; and the ones that are would never vote for you.” And I said, “Whether or not they vote for me, I would still represent them, so of course I still care about their circumstances and their concerns.” Bringing the question of whether this is going to further how I communicate the dignity of each person as I approach legislation is important.

The second of the principles is subsidiarity. What families can and should do, they ought to do. The city should only do those things that the family cannot do; the state should only do those things that the city is incapable of doing; and the federal government should only do those things that the state, local government and family are incapable of doing. I think that if we really understood that principle of subsidiarity, we would strengthen families, municipalities, counties, the state and the federal government.

Then, the principle of solidarity — that we’re in this together. It’s not enough for me to simply focus on my marriage and my family. Maybe as a young mother the only thing that I could do politically was to pray, and that is very important. That may be all some people can do in their state of life. But as that state of life changes, there can be new ways in which you are involved in bringing the Lordship of Jesus Christ to bear in your society.

The fourth principle is the common good: What is good for the whole should be good for the parts. So, am I going to be a good steward of the people’s money? Do I take clearly the accountability that I need to give to the people of this city that when I take your money through the legal means of taxation, I’m accountable to you for how we are using that to solve the problems we can solve, that individual families cannot solve?

DC: What difference does faith make when you are involved in politics?

KH: I believe that God wants to give us assistance in solving very practical problems. So, if the gifts of the Holy Spirit include things like wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, I can ask the Holy Spirit to give me those gifts applied to water and sewer. I think that politics is one of those intersections between faith and life, and we want to understand that God is concerned about all the details. We can honor him in the smallest ways.

DC: Some Catholics prefer to treat religion and politics as separate spheres that should never intersect. What would you say in that regard? 

KH: I would challenge whether they take the Lordship of Jesus Christ very seriously, because to be a Catholic is not simply to be baptized, it is to develop as a disciple, and that means that we bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ: our heart, our mind, our soul, our strength, our resources… So, how I vote, how I’m involved in politics, what my views on issues are, needs to reflect the Lordship of Christ.

There are issues on which there is still a lot of conversation and there isn’t “the Catholic way” of approaching them, but the Church has been clear that life is to be protected from conception to natural death, and to support politicians who fundamentally reject life in the womb is not a tenable position for a Catholic.

DC: We have seen Catholics in office be pressured to leave their religious beliefs behind. What room is there for religion in U.S. politics?

KH: I think there is a lack of understanding historically of why we have the Bill of Rights. It was not to say religion has no place in the marketplace of ideas, it was to say that the U.S. government was not going to sanction one religion and force it on the people. The phrase “Separation of Church and State” is not even found in the Constitution. So, I think it’s a complete misapplication and a twisting of religious freedom.

I think we’ve misunderstood what the founders intended, and we need to really rethink this, especially in recognition that atheism itself is its own religion; and so really, aren’t they actually imposing their religion on us? But regardless of whether or not we pursue this legally, individually, we will stand before our Lord and account for how we voted, who we supported, how we spent our funds.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

KH: I would put it out there and say, “Is God putting it in your heart to run for office, to serve God and to serve the public?” Because I think it is public service, and it is sacrificial. People will not always understand you and will criticize freely, so you have to know clearly who you are and why you think the way you do, what are the principles guarding you; and you need to pray for the grace to not be prideful, so that if you make wrong decisions, you humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. If you bring all of that to bear, it’s a great witness, it really is.

We need more good people to step forward, people with a compass, people understanding the principles of leadership and service. If that’s what’s on their heart, I would say, “Throw your hat in the ring.”

The intersection between faith and politics

Refectory at St. John Vianney Seminary

February 13, 7 p.m.

RSVP: archden.org/lecture

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.