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

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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: Working to make our schools safer

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By Carol Nesbitt

The issue of school safety is always on the minds of parents. Parents want to know that schools have a plan in place for all types of emergencies, from fires to intruders to staff or students feeling unsafe for various reasons.
The Archdiocese of Denver is excited to share that they now have someone directly supporting the safety preparedness and plans of the 37 Catholic schools under its watch and care.

Matt Montgomery is a former police officer and award-winning school resource officer (SRO). He’s also a chemistry and forensic science teacher as well as Director of Security and Safety at Holy Family High School. And, as of Nov. 13, he is the new Interim Director of Schools Security and Safety for the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic Schools. The position is new and the first of its kind for the Archdiocese of Denver, but important.

“As a Catholic school community we believe the safety and wellbeing of our students comes first. Time and again we hear our parents rate school safety as one of the top reasons why they entrust the care and formation of their children to our schools. As such, we believe we have a duty and moral obligation in our schools to ensure we are doing everything we can to ensure our children are safe from any type of harm,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “Historically, each of our schools has had to take on the crucial task of defining and implementing their own safety and security plans and systems. While our schools have certainly gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the safety of their school community, we believe it is critical in our current reality that we provide our schools with the expertise and qualifications of someone like Matt to support them in really analyzing their plans and assisting them in ensuring best practices are being implemented. It’s the least we can do for our school communities.”

“My role is really to lead a task force with the intention of identifying needs around school safety,” said Montgomery. He says there are a number of great models for school safety around the area, so it’s more about bringing it all together. “All public schools have someone overseeing safety and security, usually with staff members doing threat assessments, suicide assessments and emergency drills, building security, fire drills, and those kinds of things, but there really isn’t a position like this in other dioceses that we are aware of.”

Montgomery says that his job will be taking the variety of practices at schools and helping to bring consistency in efforts across the Archdiocese of Denver Catholic School community. He also says that the term ‘school safety’ is more broad than people realize. “When people think about school safety, they always gravitate to school shootings, but I think we really have to step away from that and realize that school safety and security is an umbrella. It encompasses everything from events prior to an incident all the way through recovery (post-incident).”

The five areas Montgomery is focusing on include:

Prevention
What do we do to create a loving and responsive Catholic community where students and staff feel safe and are empowered and given resources to report any behaviors or activity that is unsafe and counter to our values?

Protection
What systems and proceses do we have to vigilantly monitor for behavior or activity that is harmful to our Catholic community?

Mitigation
What procedures and policies are in place to mitigate issues?

Response
If an incident occurs, how do we respond to that incident? How do we support that school from an archdiocesan perspective? What tools are we able to provide to that school? What relationships do we have with law enforcement and first responders in that community?

Recovery
Recovery begins the second an incident occurs. How do we reunite students with families, provide counseling support and address staff issues in the case of a crisis?

Montgomery says his work will also help establish a plan for the archdiocese in the case of a larger emergency.

“What is our incident command structure going to look like so that we can respond to an incident, while also keeping in mind the unique structure of the various schools beneath the Office of Catholic Schools?”

He’d like to see the Standard Response Protocol — created by the I Love You Guys Foundation — used throughout the school system.

“One of the issues I noticed is that there are a lot of different agencies who respond to various incidents and they don’t know what the other ones are doing,” Montgomery said. “The crisis plan needs to be uniform, created for a specific age group. We need to standardize our crisis plans throughout the AoD and work with the schools to create private plans for each school that is specific to that school, simple plans that outline for administration on how they implement the plan at the moment of crisis.”

One of the biggest things Montgomery will be doing is identifying policies and procedures and training. “This is uniformly saying ‘This is what we’re doing, this is how we’re going to do it, and these are the amount of times we will practice it each year.’” This also includes training of staff on mandatory reporting, the importance of documenting things, and threat assessments that ask the right questions to get a non-biased, vetted approach to assessing threats. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the chance of someone being hurt at a school. That’s by good training, good policies and procedures, and hardening our targets, meaning the physical security of our school buildings,” said Montgomery.

As a teacher, Montgomery says he has a unique perspective. “I’m not just some cop or just an SRO. My heart is in the classroom. I’m a Catholic educator who used to be a cop. My goal is to make sure kids can focus on being a kid and learning, not having to worry about being hurt at school or being bullied or having thoughts of suicide. I want them to feel that school is a safe place. That’s why I do it. I really love doing school safety.”