First we heard about the deviant sexual behavior of Catholic priests in the United States. Not a word from Europe. Then slowly the walls of silence came tumbling down even on the Continent and one gruesome incident after the other was reported. But in Eastern Europe silence reigned. Surely, no thinking person could believe that all Hungarian priests were saints, radically different from their colleagues elsewhere. There must be problems in Hungary too, but people are either reluctant to report the priests’ misdeeds or the Catholic Church manages to keep the information under lock and key.
I who am a diligent reader of the Hungarian press remember an interview years ago with a young man who for a while was a student at a Catholic seminary. He claimed that “incredible” things were going on within the walls of the school. However, to my knowledge there was no follow-up of this story. Then in 2007 a web site from a U.S. server collected the names of twenty-five gay Hungarian priests. (Gay men, of course, are not necessarily–in fact rarely–pedophiles, and pedophiles are not necessarily–in fact not usually–gay. But within the Catholic Church these distinctions are often blurred.) How the Hungarian Catholic Church managed to shut down the web site I don’t know, but when it was still functioning it claimed that a gay priest was “one of the greatest manipulators of real estate in the whole Catholic Church.”
And this leads us to the current scandal in the Hungarian Catholic Church: the resignation of Mihály Mayer, bishop of Pécs, and the departure of the doyen of the diplomatic corps in Budapest, the ambassador of the Vatican to Hungary.
A couple of years ago I received a small booklet from my cousin who belongs to a group of retired school principals in Pécs. They get together for potluck dinners and occasionally for outings. This time it was a visit to the palace of the bishop. From the outside the place doesn’t look lavish, but the pictures I received of the interior tell a different story. Moreover (and not visible on the picture), recently the bishop added to the building at the back.
The wine cellar, according to my cousin, was truly spectacular, and the opulence in general awed the visitors. What these innocent retired school principals didn’t know was that the bishop in the last few years had amassed an ill-gotten fortune.
Without going into all the details of a long story that started already in 2006, János Wildman, a Catholic layman and editor of a Catholic publication, turned to a Hungarian priest serving in a high position in the Vatican and told him about the questionable financial dealings of the bishopric in addition to the discovery of pedophilia by one of the important Catholic priests attached to the bishop’s entourage in charge of financial matters. Wildman asked for an investigation. Four years went by. Finally in September 2010 we heard that two high-level officials in the bishopric of Pécs were removed from their positions. Surely, the bishop of Pécs thought that this was the end of the story. For a little while he even tried to convince people that the dismissal of the two priests had absolutely nothing to with either sex or money.
Stonewalling couldn’t last forever. A month later Bishop Mihály Mayer was himself accused of forty different offenses, including inappropriate financial dealings, forgery, and sex crimes. Another month went by when the association of Hungarian Catholic Bishops announced that only the Vatican can start proceedings against Mayer. The police of Baranya county immediately made it clear that they don’t want to do anything with the case because “in the past the local police had amicable relations with the bishopric.” A few months later Mihály Mayer resigned his post. And a few days ago the Vatican named György Udvardy to replace him. Udvardy immediately announced that he will get involved in the investigation only if canon law compels him to do so.
And now we come to another interesting development. It turned out that years ago the Vatican informed its ambassador to Budapest, Julius Janus of Polish origin, that something was not quite right in Pécs and instructed him to start an investigation. Julius Janus, instead of starting an internal probe, passed on the documents he received from Rome to the accused. When this came to light Benedict XVI demoted Julius Janus by moving him from Budapest where he spent eight happy years and sending him to Slovenia. In this capacity he will also be in charge of Kosovo. Apparently in Vatican terms it is a sign of disgrace.
The Hungarian government’s reaction to the whole affair is rather curious. Most likely at the suggestion of Zsolt Zsemjén, who pretty well represents the Catholic Church’s interests in the government, the Hungarian government awarded Julius Janus the Cross of the Order of Merit.
A strange country where a person who clearly didn’t follow the orders of the Vatican and who tolerated and shielded pedophiles and other criminals receives a decoration from the Hungarian government. As for this picture, Semjén’s farewell embrace of Julius Janus seems a bit over the top. The former Vatican ambassador looks decidedly uncomfortable.
Meanwhile more and more cases of alleged pedophilic activities of Catholic priests are being reported. Earlier there was a case in Bóly in Baranya county. The accused priest was under the jurisdiction of Bishop Mayer. Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to that case. A few days ago newspapers reported another case of pedophilia in Orosháza. One of the parish priests there apparently had an illicit relationship with a young girl. The age of the girl is being debated. Some say that she was twelve years old, the priest claims that she was sixteen.
In any case, the trouble within the Catholic Church has finally reached Hungary as well. I suspect, however, that there will be a concerted effort to dampen its effect.