A Hungarian Catholic archbishop looks at the “modern” world

David Baer, who teaches theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University, is interested in the fate of Hungary. He spent two longer periods in Hungary as a Fulbright scholar and is the author of a book entitled The Struggle of Hungarian Lutherans under Communism. He also has family connections that tie him to the country. His wife and two children are Hungarian citizens. He speaks Hungarian well.

On January 17 Baer decided to write an open letter to Hungarian churches in which he expressed his worries about the general state of Hungarian democracy as well as his specific concerns about the new law on churches that makes the recognition of churches as such the prerogative of politicians. He sent his Hungarian-language letter to the Hungarian Lutheran Church, which decided to make it available on the Internet.

It is a thoughtful letter. Baer is convinced that reviving the notion of the “third road” (the idea that Hungary’s future lies somewhere between modern capitalism and Soviet-type socialism) can only lead away from Europe. Baer’s sympathies used to lie with Fidesz, but today he is deeply disappointed in the Orbán government. He thinks very little of the new Hungarian constitution which “perhaps some consider to be the basis of Hungarian democracy, but then these people must realize that this specifically Hungarian democracy is contrary to basic concepts of western democracy.” In the West this “new kind of democracy is called Putinism.”

At the end of his letter Baer asks the people who pin their hopes on Orbán in the name of national interest to reconsider their opinion about Hungary’s true national interest.

The Lutherans made Baer’s letter public “in the hope of substantive and cultured discussion.” As far I could ascertain, Baer’s letter solicited only one answer: from Gyula Márfi, the Catholic archbishop of Veszprém, earlier Bishop of Eger.

Márfi was appointed to his post in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, a post József Mindszenty held in 1944-45 prior to his appointment as prince primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church and archbishop of Esztergom. Márfi spent two years (1976-1978) in Paris where he received his “diplome supérieur d’études oecuméniques.” So, Márfi doesn’t even have the excuse of being totally ignorant of Western Europe. Of course, it is possible that while in France he met only arch-conservative Catholic priests. In any case, a few years back–as Zsófia Mihancsik’s footnote to Márfi’s letter reminded me–he delivered a ringing speech on the thirty-second anniversary of Mindszenty’s death about “Hungary that is suffering from an overdose of freedom,” in fact “is in life threatening danger” because of too much liberty. In the audience was the American ambassador April H. Foley. One can only hope that she didn’t understand one blessed word of Márfi’s sermon, unless, of course, the Archbishopric provided an English translation of the speech ahead of the event. Of course, if this was the case, April Foley shouldn’t have attended.

Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém (magyarkurir.hu)

Márfi’s letter is very long and I will not be able to do justice to it. In keeping with the Hungarian custom of telling one’s adversary that he is ignorant, Márfi writes that, in complaining about taking the right to decide on the status of churches away from the judges, Baer doesn’t understand the Hungarian situation. Because, according to Márfi, the so-called independent Hungarian judiciary is full of judges who served the communist dictatorship and took part in the persecution of Hungarian church leaders. Naturally, this is the figment of Márfi’s imagination. In fact, by the 1970s and 1980s the Catholic Church had a very cozy relationship with the Kádár regime. Most of the church leaders served as informers for the Ministry of Interior.

Márfi also takes exception to Baer’s questioning of the current Hungarian government’s commitment to Europe. Again, he repeated, “as far as I can see, Mr. Professor, your knowledge of Europe is deficient and one-sided.” In Márfi’s opinion there is a “Christian Europe in hiding while there is a much louder, sharply anti-Christian and ultra-liberal Europe.” This Europe still recognizes “the Great Builder” but denies “the God of Jesus Christ and his Ten Commandments.” The leaders of this Europe are the ones who “overprescribe freedom which, similar to an overdose of medicine, doesn’t cure but poisons.” Europe today is a place where abortions are performed; it is the world of free love; a place of lesbians and homosexuals.

Márfi goes further. This left-wing, modern Europe is actually “the Europe of former communists who are now capitalists; the Europe of freedom fighters who were formerly dictators; the Europe of such ‘modern people’ whose morality has proved to be obsolete and incapable of survival in the last two thousand years; the Europe of people who seem to be worried about the freedom of religion when in fact they persecute the churches.”

After this outrageous description of today’s Europe, Márfi moves on to the defense of Viktor Orbán who is being shown as a martyr who was attacked in the European Parliament by “the followers of Mao Zedong” and “a pedophile who is trying to teach morals to a father of five.”

Baer’s third sin is that he ignores the influence of the evil United States “in the Orbán affair.” If Baer thinks that this is a purely European question, he is wrong. Viktor Orbán doesn’t really have problems with the European Union but “with international capital” whose “owners” must be found somewhere around New York’s Wall Street. These “owners of capital” want to make individual states their slaves through their loans. These people try to influence elections and through their loans they make smaller countries their colonies. These capitalists are very angry at Viktor Orbán because “he enacted several laws adversely affecting the international financiers.”

Veszpremi ersekseg

The Veszprém Archbishopric advertising Fidesz and the Orbán government’s New Széchenyi Plan

The leaders of the European Union know full well that international financial circles are endangering Europe yet they are still willing to cooperate with them for financial reasons, out of fear, or perhaps for ideological considerations. “The situation is well known. It was this way two thousand years ago when the Rabbinical Council cooperated with Pontius Pilate. Pilate is still being applauded by all scribblers and pharisees. And naturally there are the false witnesses whose whole life consists only of lies and because they own most of the media … they exclaim ‘Crucify him! Crucify Viktor Orbán.'” And in case we have any doubt whom Márfi has in mind, he mentions Ákos Kertész and Imre Kertész, both of whom happen to be Jewish.

This incredible description of the world by a Hungarian Catholic cleric ends with a quotation from David C. Korten’s 1995 book When Corporations Rule the World. It is a leftist critique of global capitalism, but I have noticed over the years that it is also a favorite book of the far right.

And the Orbán government is passing on school after school to a Catholic Church whose leaders think like Archbishop Gyula Márfi. I’m really worried about the kind of education these children are receiving now and will receive in even greater numbers in the future.

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Guest

London Calling!
““Viktor Orbán who is being shown as a martyr who was attacked in the European Parliament by ……a pedophile who is trying to teach morals to a father of five.””
And we all know about the Roman Catholic’s expertise in paedophilia don’t we?
So another lurch to the right.
Right wing children’s education; right wing Media; right wing University students; right wing Fidesz; righter wing Jobbik; right wing Bishops; righter wing theatres. Where does the list end?
Collectively the population of Hungary is so right wing it would give Attila the Hun a run for his money.
Some minorities must be feeling very uncomfortable – which can only add to the diaspora.
What can I say? It’s not my country – but it will generate a lot of unhappiness.
I am just so sad.
Regards
Charlie

riviera1
Guest

For starters, does the good bishop know the saying about ‘who’s calling the kettle black’? (or some such)
If we turned the Catholic bishops and priests upside down and gave them a good shake, how many homosexuals would fall out?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

riviera1: “If we turned the Catholic bishops and priests upside down and gave them a good shake, how many homosexuals would fall out?”
I would say a much higher percentage than in the population as a whole.

An
Guest

I would very much like to know what is the deal between Orban and the Catholic Church. Orban has hurt many interests but the Church always gets what it wants from the government. Fidesz is governing with a ghost-party,KDNP, backed by the Catholic Church. A party, that wouldn’t have even gotten into the parliament without Fidesz,still, it has major influence on certain laws (education, religion)
Well, maybe historians figure this one out one day.

justafan
Guest

Dear Éva,
I as a Jewish person, just can’t suffer the still much too high influence of the Christian Churches in our society.
I am sure that you as a Jew agree as well with that, but acting against them is a tricky business. Just think of Obama and how he had to retreat on that issue involving religious freedom.
Somehow a solution would be needed that would hit the Christian Churches hard, but leave any other groups unaffected.
Jewish culture should be much more prominently displayed in all aspects of Hungarian cultural life.
In my experience Jews, even in media positions in Hungary rarely mention their heritage almost as if they were ashamed of it. This should change. Without being proud of who we are we can’t achieve progress.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

justafan, I suggest that you play your dirty tricks somewhere else. That’s not your terrain.

Kirsten
Guest

An, that issue is really interesting. Can someone recall when the Catholic Church rose to such prominence in public life? I suspect some link to 2006 as the Church could very well serve as a moral authority condemning the ‘lies’ and ‘brutality’ of MSzP, but that is only a guess of an uninformed.

Steve
Guest

Decency as prescribed by Immanuel Kant, and by his excellent student Ferenc Deak, could be the state religion of Hungary.
The nation would enjoy a healthy secularism, and prosperity like the citizend of Germany, Austria or Switzerland.
These three countries should be the general ideal of Hungarian politics.
H. David Baer will be honored as deserved.

tigerente
Guest

“the Europe of freedom fighters who were formerly dictators”
And how about those who wanted to pose as freedom fighters and now want to entrench themselves as viktators, I mean, dictators?
Shame on him.

Member

Guys like him truly remind me on the “Peace Priest” movement in Hungary. This movement was started by the Communist party at the beginning of the 50s and organized by Janos Kadar. Some priests joined willingly some were forced in. The basic idea was dividing religious leaders and confuse the members of the churches.
This fellow is exactly the same as the voluntary “peace priests”. He supports unconditionally the ruling regime over the spiritual well being of the souls under his care. Utter shame because when he does this he has the same effect as the piece priests. They divide the believers and incite suspicion.
I think the stupidity is a new religion on Planet Hungary. Let’s start the Church of Holy Ignorance. In twenty years we can file the papers with the parliament for the recognition. I’m serous (sort of).

Paul
Guest

“This Europe still recognizes “the Great Builder” but denies “the God of Jesus Christ and his Ten Commandments.””
An interesting view from a Christian, because it completely ignore the two extra commandments Jesus gave ‘us’:
Matthew 22:36 “And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Although, reading the second “great commandment”, you can see why someone with as evil a view of the world and his fellow man as Márfi chooses to ignore it.

LT
Guest
I am a Roman Catholic and I love my Church. But I don’t like to see the Church too much involved in politics. Pope Benedict mentions “a healthy secularism” and also stresses, whenever he can, that the Church should disentangle Herself from the World. That is, we are in the world and we are here to make testimony for the good message of Jesus Christ, we are not ready to give up being active in public. But, to identify ourselves with a certain party, a certain political leader, is not a good policy, and not at all in accordance with the Gospel. The Europe Parliament is not representing the Church and it reflects what now secularized Europe in fact is. The Catholics should be the voice for pro-life activities because the Lord bid us to protect life, but we must do it in a democratic way. It is now use to dream of being protected by a “dictator” and then get privileges from him, Franco has shown that it is a wrong way. I don’t know what your conviction is, but I don’t condone the abolishment of traditional marriage, I am against Euthanasia, against abortion of innocent children. You might… Read more »
LT
Guest

Sorry, mistyped “no” as “now”, it should be “it is no use to dream of being protected by a dictator etc.”.

LT
Guest

Btw. in the U.S. they have some really great bishops, I am a fan of Cardinal Dolan (New York), Chaput (Philadelphia), Cardinal George (Chicago).
In Central Europe / West Europe they also have good bishops, and I can assure that in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (as already mentioned above), the bishops are also convinced democrats. Pope Benedict is a democrat. He has seen the evil of a totalitarian regime so he despise it, and any kind of totalitarianism and fascism.

tigerente
Guest

@LT
However wonderful it would be for the Church to mostly disentangle itself from politics, I don’t think the Pope does. He’s even opinionated on a variety of subjects, even those that concern people from other faiths.
Now, concerning said disentanglement, one thing is, say, for priests to denounce the violation of human rights under a certain government (positive involvement) and another is to, as you say, “identify with a certain party” (negative involvement). Also, I’d go beyond saying such a thing isn’t a “good policy”. It’s morally wrong.
By the way, “the abolishment of traditional marriage”? As far as I know, no one is declaring heterosexual marriage void. One thing is for you to disagree with same-sex marriage and another to pretend it has anything to do with the right of heterosexuals persons to legally marry. One doesn’t invalidate the other.
I rest my case, I went OT enough.

Member

Can someone, somehow ask Márfi that how was he able to get a permit from the communists to spend two years (1976-1978) in Paris? At that time, wit the exception of being a “diplomat” or a businessman for the “communist” Hungarian interest, it was impossible to get a visa for that long. We were not even able to visit relatives across the border at that time, especially people were allowed to travel to the West, every five years. II guess what Mr Marfi is afraid of is the many similar, lucky insiders like himself. SO, how did Mr Marfi was able to pull this off, if what he says it’s true, that “there was a “persecution of Hungarian church leaders”?

Tom Vargoczky
Guest

It is amazing to read from this group of bloggers that there is only one type of democracy – Western democracy..anyone else trying to build an alternative is branded, labeled, scrutinised and punished..the old adage works: ‘I made up my mind, don’t confuse me with the facts’..Ladies-Gentlemen, while you use this hate speech against Hungary you should look at the rotting carcass of Europe, the madness of the last few years in the US (I know – have lived there for the last 5 years) – this fiscal irresponsibility based on far-left ideology of Western Governments etc..what you forget is that you are now a minority – the Asian- African world doesn’t want any of you and don’t care about your manifested ideology…yup, while Rome burns – the far-left bloggers sing..

Lutra lutra
Guest

It’s very hard to be part of Christian Europe (and most Europeans are nominally Christians) without adhering to the norms of Western democracy. Unfortunately for god-botherers like Marfi, that means replacing the certainties of dogma (communist or catholic) with compromise and the facts that we can’t turn the clocks back and our leaders are just as fallible as we are.
By the way, I took his “Great Builder” reference to be Freemasonry, which some see as part of the international conspiracy and the Church’s “enemy within”.

hongorma
Guest

@Tom Vargoczy:
The various Occupy movements amply demonstrate that many people in the West are supremely interested in finding alternate, more open forms of democracy. That many people recognize that there are serious problems with the system as we know it.
Having said that, Orban’s solution–the emphasis of such a narrow definition of national identity, the closing down of avenues of free speech and expression, the extreme centralization of all government functions–has surely nothing to do with democracy at all.

Guest
London Calling! Hongorma – well said. Tom – and what characterises so-called ‘Western Democracy’ ? ‘Western Democracy’ is more pluralistic – more so than the many flavours of communism. ‘English’ democracy is so different from French democracy, which is so different from American which is so different…. blah blah blah. How many examples do you need? One of the problems the EU has is that it is proving impossible to bring the members to book because – yes because – of the many different democracies. The EU is a loose alliance of democracies and is flexible within limits. There have to be limits – remember you signed up voluntarily as a member of the club? Hungary is proving difficult because it is breaching so many areas of what ‘Western Democracies’ instinctively know are wrong. Understand this. All the so-called ‘Western Democracies’ , as you (appear to) deprecatingly group us, is that they have all been honed and sharpened through empirical means over hundreds of years in many cases. Many lessons have been learned and the iterative nature of these societies makes them stronger. So what about Orban’s democracy? (The best example of an oxymoron since ‘True Lies’.) It is just… Read more »
riviera1
Guest

@Vargoczky
Putin says,” You have your Democracy and we have ours..” and everyone believe him..??? Are you kidding me?
There is only ONE democracy: its principles do not change.
It’s pluralistic; it’s representative; it’s media is many-sided and
un-impeded by government; its judges are independent and shielded from influence; and most of all, it believes that government is in the service of its citizenry. Run that checklist
beside the Orban government and you’ll find non of the criteria in the Orban Reality.
One of the problems for Hungarians is that they don’t know what they are talking about. If you mention deTocqueville; Hamilton, Hay, Jefferson, Washington…would 99% of Hungarians have experienced any of their writings?
Perhaps it’s the 45 years of Communism…that made habituated people to believe that fact or truth is what the powers-that-be say it is. In any case, the populace is thoroughly confused and unable to differentiate between flim-flam and truth.

riviera1
Guest

I’m going to anticipate Vargoczky’s counter-arguments.
No doubt he’ll mention the failures of the American Supreme Court; or the special interest lobbies of Washington…and the like. This is symptomatic of the “Hungarian Method”–pin-point a specific weakness and attack it as if it was symptomatic of the whole…a wonderful specialty of herr Orban as he claims that his legislation is like that of other countries in Europe. The problem is in the Intent and spirit of the legislation–Orban’s legislation, as a whole, is clearly anti-democratic.

Guest

Riviera1
You don’t need me I know – but I’m standing shoulder to shoulder. Well done!
Regards
Charlie

LT
Guest
@tigerente Nice to read that you rest the case. You exhibit very well what I call a totalitarian mentality. I wrote, we should have a voice in the public sphere, but we should not identify us too much with a certain party because we are in a democracy and all Catholics are also citizens who can have their own political convictions. They can, take U.S. as an example, elect the Democratic Party or the Republicans, and it doesn’t affect their Catholicism. You wrote though, that Christians, or better, Catholics, should keep silent and Pope Benedict is not allowed to express his opinion concerning the society, the world and people of other confessions. Look, if I say, President Obama should keep silent and say no word about Europe, what would you say about me. Or let say, the atheist Richard Dawkins should say no word about Chrisitans because he has no right to, what would you say about me? Doubtlessly, I would be a bigot for you if I say all non-Catholics have no right to write about the Catholic Church. But I won’t say it, because I am a real liberal, yes I am, though you will deny that I… Read more »
LT
Guest
Sorry for the mistyping in the last paragraph. It should read “Sadly, I must say, that you are one of those of a totalitarian mindset, because our Pope Benedict, who is actually living in a free Western society so is, thanks to the democracy we enjoy, allowed to say what he thinks, according to you, in comparison, he is not allowed to have a voice. In this way, Catholics are treated by you as second class citizens. Why, because they have a different opinion. You are free to have your opinion, but in a democracy, Catholics, as citizens are also free to be involved in the decision making process. You can’t exclude them from it, though I think you want to. And the general strategy is to brand Catholics who want to up hold the moral teachings of the Church as bigots, and a bigot is somewhat a second class citizen so all good Catholics are not to be taken seriously and the far left can do whatever they want without asking and consulting with the other components of the same society. I call it dictatorship of the far-left. Fortunately, in real democratic countries of the West, things are not… Read more »
Member

@Vargoczky You sound like my Marxism-Leninism teacher in college 25 years ago. Western-Europe, US was rotting and gosh they are still rotting.
We are doing just fine. I think what your saying is …. well “alternative wisdom’?

Lutra lutra
Guest

I don’t see anybody on this thread suggesting we deprive Catholics (or any other group) of their right to express their opinions. Personally, I think various faith members already play a key role as society’s conscience, and Pope Benedict is one of their most important representatives.
However, LT (London Transport? Latent Tendency?)is predictably ignoring the fact that the critique from Thomas Baer came from another Christian, but one of a different branch of the faith. When Hungarian Catholics or the American Religious Right start to see they have a monopoly on truth is when the word “bigot” comes to mind.

Member

THe beauty of democracy is that there is space left for error. Under any other forms of governing efforts errors are also plenty, but the facts are suppressed and dented to exhibit a perfect machine, the flow of information is largely manipulated in order to keep a choker on the governed. (North Korea, Russia, China) Here is Schmitt. It is obvious that choosing him as a President was a mistake, but this error will not be admitted even though the guy is a cheater, a puppet and clearly lacks the qualities required to such position. It was Orban’s choice, (portrayed as a democratic process), and he will never retreat from his mistake.
As far as the other points about African and Asian “movements”.. it is clear that from your point of view democracy should not exist, and you embrace the forms of chaos or the “divine” governing that unfortunately still mostly defines those two continents.
Would you be kind enough to outline in a few words the democracy you seek versus the Western Democracy you loath. I think this would really help us to understand what you are really trying to say.

Guest

Maybe a bit OT – Re Catholics:
Have you read about the US GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum who is a devout catholic ?
He’s a real reactionary right wing loonie imho.
If he were to become president and make real his extreme ideas about homosexuality, contraception, abortion and so on – then good night USA …
Though I believe if the GOP would choose him (against Romney) Obama’s winning the elections would be assured!

Member

An “I would very much like to know what is the deal between Orban and the Catholic Church”
I think his deal is the same as with any of his allies through times. They have to serve his interest. Divide et impera! (Oszd meg és uralkodj!)

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