Michael Hernon is the founder and president of The Catholic Association (thecatholicassociation.org), an organization that seeks to organize lay Catholics into an effective political force.
A New York native, Hernon is a city councilman in Steubenville, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Alicia, and their seven children. He earned a master of business administration at Franciscan University.
He said that, working on a national campaign in 2000, he found many good people working in Washington, D.C., but he sensed that there needed to be more of a voice representing lay Catholic interests.
Register correspondent Charlie Spiering spoke with him about his plans.
What is the mission behind The Catholic Association?
TCA’’s mission is to strengthen the Catholic voice not just in politics but also in culture. There is a specific wisdom that the Catholic Church can offer to the cultures and political issues of the day. And I think that there is a responsibility that we have as the largest faith in this country to advance a solid value based agenda for the good of all Americans.
It seems that you are going at it from a different angle rather than focusing on a particular party or candidate.
Exactly. Partisan politics is what divides Catholics and Americans. We want to focus on issues that unite faithful Catholics and get people together. We really want to be truly Catholic so the issues that we selected are both clearly compelling based upon Catholic teaching and they are uniting issues for faithful Catholics. In politics there is strength in numbers.
The nature of politics in a certain aspect is to divide; but we don’’t want to do that. We are not a voting bloc or a political party; we are a network of faithful Catholics trying to make a difference in the world. I think there is a broad consensus on a number of issues. Too often it is partisanship that divides us.
What are the issues that The Catholic Association focuses on?
We have selected four issues: culture of life, marriage and the family, defending Catholic identity and promoting cultural renewal.
We begin with the two bedrock Catholic values of the advancing a culture of life and protecting marriage and the family. TCA will also champion our Catholic identity, and promote cultural renewal. By Catholic identity, we mean championing Catholic individuals and institutions under attack because of their faith and identity. And, sadly, this is happening more and more of late.
I recently spoke with a bishop who believes this will be the most defining issue for the Church. Promoting cultural renewal means defending the best in our culture while helping parents to protect their children from the vicious and violent influences they worry about today. As a father, this is something very near and dear to my heart and is universally important for parents and grandparents.
When did you decide to move into politics?
In the beginning, my politics was focused on advancing the culture of life. The more I got to know people throughout the pro-life movement and the more I campaigned for representatives who shared my values, the more I got frustrated with what little was being done, and why abortion was still being allowed to exist. I was naive in my insistence that things should change overnight.
For a while, I was burned out on politics, just because I had been putting a lot of time into candidates and saw little fruit.
I took a break for a couple of years and focused on raising my family and serving in my community while keeping connections with pro-life activists that I knew.
What brought you back into the political realm?
It became clear to me about eight to 10 years ago that the world I was leaving for my children needs to be in better shape then what it is today. I was doing business consulting at the time with my MBA and as much as I was enjoying it, I realized that there was something I was avoiding. I really needed to make a difference.
Not only did I feel called to politics, but I saw it very much connected with being a father and protecting my kids and their future.
Pope John Paul II was admonishing the Church to look forward to the Jubilee Year and in response to that I began to do some personal soul searching. I came to see that I was not only stuck in a rut but missing out on something that I was called to do.
When I finally decided to respond to this new call, my wife was the greatest encourager for me to change jobs and jump into the political world. That’s when I started doing stuff locally and slowly started percolating at the national level and I have been knee deep in it for about 10 years.
Why did you run for Steubenville City Council?
I believe all politics are local, and to serve national efforts it’s important to have a presence or engagement with politics on a local level.
Local politics is really where most people can have the greatest impact, but it is also where most people are not aware or engaged in what is going on. I really see that lessons learned at the local level in politics are easily transferred to the national level. Also, being involved with day-to-day affairs of your city or local town is a good challenge for people. It’s been good for me at least.
Charlie Spiering writes from Washington, D.C.