There are times of odd coincidences. In my life today is one of these times. Earlier I heard about a Christmas Eve midnight mass broadcast on MTV (public television). In it János Székely, auxiliary bishop of Esztergom, expressed his sorrow over the fact that there were more Gypsy than Hungarian babies born in 2008. First of all, I considered the reference to Roma versus Hungarian babies tasteless. My second thought was: How does he know this when there are no statistics available on the ethnic origins of newborn babies? My third thought was: this is impossible given the size of the Roma population in Hungary.
Well, it seems that György Bolgár also heard about this midnight mass and decided to ask Ferenc Tomka, a theologian and staunch apologist for the Catholic Church, to be part of his program today. Tomka, of course, vigorously defended the auxiliary bishop's unfortunate remark and tried to explain it away as being in fact most appropriate. After all, said Tomka, the bishop praised the Gypsies for their love of children and their high birthrate statistics. I have heard Tomka talk on Bolgár's program before, and therefore I wasn't expecting anything else.
And now comes the odd coincidence. This afternoon I kept reading Gábor Tabajdi and Krisztián Ungváry's book on the history of the Hungarian political police between 1956 and 1990. There is a whole chapter on the Catholic church. To be more precise, how the top hierarchy of the Hungarian Catholic Church served the Hungarian communist party and how they collaborated with the Hungarian secret service. And what do I see in one of the footnotes? Ferenc Tomka was working for the Hungarian secret service under the cover name of "Lukács." Well, well!
The position of the Hungarian Catholic Church today is that the connection between the Catholic hierarchy and the Ministry of Interior under whose aegis the secret service operated was not extensive and certainly not important. The above mentioned Tomka wrote a book entitled Halálra ítéltek, mégis élünk (They condemned us to death, yet we still live) published with the permission of the Council of Bishops that tries to vindicate the Church. The Council's former secretary, today a bishop, minimized the role the bishops and archbishops played by saying that they wrote only meaningless little essays that didn't hurt anyone. Moreover, by now most of these people are dead. Neither is true. In 1987 six new archbishops and bishops were appointed and three of them worked for the secret service, including József Mindszenty's successor, László Páskai, archbishop of Esztergom. Moreover, the leadership of the secret service had a very different opinion. According to a report for internal use only after 1970 the Catholic leadership gave "unfailing support to MSZMP."
One thing is sure, Hungarian bishops with very few exceptions were ready to cooperate. This cooperation is somewhat understandable because the Vatican's Ostpolitik pretty well demanded such cooperation. Within this Ostpolitik Hungary held a unique position. In 1964 there was an agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian government by which Pope Paul VI agreed to the Hungarian demand that bishops can be appointed only with the permission of the Hungarian state. Unfortunately, historians of state and church relations are totally in the dark concerning the details of this agreement because the Vatican placed all pertinent documents under a seventy-year ban, and in 1998 the Vatican asked the Hungarian government to do the same–not for seventy but for seventy-five years. The Hungarian government (Gyula Horn was the prime minister), in the hope that the Catholic Church would not show outright antagonism to the socialist party and his government, promised whatever the Catholic Church asked. It was a big mistake: the Church openly supported and continues to support Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.
But let's go back to the 1964 agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian state. Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican's Secretary of State at the time, was sure that without this 1964 agreement the Hungarian Catholic Church's "complete collapse would have been unavoidable." On the other hand, neither Romania nor East Germany signed such an agreement with the Vatican and yet the Catholic churches in those countries survived. Czechoslovakia refused to sign such an agreement in 1966 although there were thirteen bishoprics that were vacant. Eventually in 1973 the Vatican accepted four bishops nominated by the Czechoslovak government but the whole Czechoslovak Catholic hierarchy wasn't as subservient to the state as the Hungarian. Although the documentation is not complete, according to the authors of the 36 Hungarians appointed with the blessing of the Vatican 23 were informers. The documentation on the others doesn't give us clear answers. Apparently only five persons can be identified out of the 36 who were definitely not part of the informer network.
How did they manage to get all these people to cooperate? Of course, there was the clear understanding after a while that if you want to move ahead then you'd better behave. Sometimes the men of the secret service used blackmail. In one case it is clear that the basis of the blackmail was "inappropriate relationship with nuns." Some of those forced into cooperation were indeed fairly useless from the point of view of the state, but others were outright enthusiastic. A good example of the latter was Kornél Pataky, appointed bishop of Győr in 1976, who had been recruited in 1958. Another enthusiast was László Dankó, appointed bishop of Kalocsa (1983). István Bagi, appointed auxiliary bishop of Esztergom, was "so materialistic, so hungry, so demanding" that from the reports one can hear the agents' contempt between the lines. Then there was Árpád Fábián, the bishop of Szombathely (1975) with a working class background whose father was a party functionary in the Czechoslovak Communist Party. He was a true believer not just in the religious sense. The secret service man wanted to show some appreciation and wanted to give him some money but he wouldn't take it. "He told us that he does his work out of conviction." Thus he received some gifts: 10 cartons of cigarettes and some nice expensive bottles of wine. He had no problem accepting these.
All in all, this chapter on the Hungarian Catholic Church's connection with the secret service is depressing reading. The Catholic Church is trying its best to prevent the disclosure of the details but as we can see diligent historians do find bits and pieces of information that don't shed the best light on the Hungarian Catholic leadership. I should add that all other religious leaders did the same and that only the Lutherans were willing to tell the whole truth. The Catholic Church tries to prevent disclosure by appealing to the separation of church and state. A truly ridiculous argument. Apparently next month we may find out the future of the documents dealing with the role of the church hierarchy in the political police network.