Psychological and sexual pressure at the Benedictine gymnasium in Pannonhalma

Over the last two days the Hungarian media has widely reported a story, more than ten years old, about a monk-poet-teacher at the famous Benedictine Gymnasium, a boarding school for boys, in picturesque Pannonhalma. Although little has become public, the monk in question is no longer a member of the Benedictine order. An internal investigative committee, after a seven-month probe, came to the conclusion that the learned father had behaved in an inappropriate manner with the boys under his care.

Is this case even worth mentioning here? After all, in the last couple of decades we had one report after another about priests who were involved in illicit sexual relations with their young students. There were numerous instances in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Ireland, even Poland. But not in Hungary. This case is a first, hence the great public interest.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that the sexual proclivities of Hungarian priests is radically different from those in other countries. The suspicion is that the Hungarian Catholic Church made it its business to cover up all stories that surfaced about sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests or monks. László Szily, the blogger of, related a story that happened in his own school, the famous Budapest Piarist High School, where his priest math teacher during a school outing joined one of his students in bed and began patting him. The boy had the good sense to report the incident to his parents, who complained. The good father was removed from the Budapest school only to show up a year or so later in Kecskemét.

I suspect that the only reason the Pannonhalma case wasn’t covered up is the special status of the Benedictine Pannonhalma Arch-Abbey, which is not subordinate to the Hungarian Catholic Church but functions under the jurisdiction of the Vatican itself. This is, by the way, true of all the abbeys that belong to the Benedictine Federation of Congregations under the leadership of an abbot primate. The Hungarian arch-abbot, Asztrik Várszegi, has the reputation of being a liberal churchman. Practically the only one in Hungary.

Each class in Pannonhalma, just like in other Hungarian schools, has a homeroom teacher. In addition, there is another monk called “the prefect” who is in charge of members of the class outside of school. At the time in question, however, there were not enough monks in residence, and therefore some of the children had our man as both their homeroom teacher and their prefect.

Most of his former students complained less about sexual molestation than about the psychological pressure he exerted. Some of them called it psychological terror. He divided his class into those whom he liked and cared about and those who were not his favorites, whom he ignored. He gathered around himself a small group of students, a kind of elite guard, from whom he demanded total devotion. For example, he explained to them that if they don’t love him, later in life they will be incapable of loving any other human being.

Since he was an excellent, demanding teacher, his students did exceedingly well academically and therefore, according to some former students, complaints about him were ignored.

It is hard to believe, as some of the students claimed, that the teacher’s “touching of the students didn’t have any sexual content.” Well, I don’t know how else to explain the following story told by one of the students. “After turning off the light at bedtime, he used to sit down on the beds of his favorites. He embraced them and occasionally he reached into their pajamas.”

Pannonhalma Benedictine Arch-Abbey. A gorgeous place but perhaps not the best place to send your child

Pannonhalma Benedictine Arch-Abbey

A former student recounted the following, which reveals a lot about the naiveté of the victims and the psyche of the teacher:

I remember that in grade twelve I went to the father and asked him to tell me whether I said anything that offended him because he always behaved strangely toward me…. He called me into his room to talk the matter over and he brought up an old story from two years before when I called him gay in the common bedroom. I hardly remembered the story but it seems that it must have gotten back to him. I didn’t seriously think that he was gay, it was just a kind of childish stupidity. However, what remained with me was how damaged this man must be to carry with him for two solid years the silly jest of a sixteen-year-old.

One probably ought not be surprised by such stories. Pannonhalma is a community tucked away on a hill, separated from the rest of civilization. There are 300 boys between the ages of 12 and 18, supervised by monks. The boys are sent by parents who believe in the superiority of the school and who perhaps think that if their son lives away from home in a strict environment the experience will mold his character in a beneficial way. Especially in the first couple of years they most likely miss their family, but eventually they form a kind of family of their own within the walls of the monastery. They live in a hothouse atmosphere, which might not be the healthiest. It is exactly the kind of place which breeds relationships such as the one this man developed with his students.

Of course, it’s not just religious schools, nor schools that are geographically isolated, that are guilty in this regard. Just witness the continuing uproar over the sexual abuse that went on for years at Horace Mann, an elite private school in New York. Victims are often either too naive or too cowed by their abuser to report offenses and, when they do report, authorities are usually reluctant to act on the information. They have too great a stake in defending their institution.

At least the administration at Pannonhalma acted decisively, however belatedly. The Hungarian Catholic Church never has. And we all know it’s not because it has never had cause to act.

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May 28, 2015 6:46 pm

Okay, I get it, Éva, the Church does bad things, starting with the teaching of religion, but I dont see how this falls under the Hungarian Spectrum “reflections on politics, economics and culture” subhead.

Not quite lurid, your piece is still titillating. Another father figure does bad. I dont see how you can connect this to any cultural subgroup. Shit happens everywhere. That reality is not the general reality of Hungary, nor of the Roman Catholic Church, nor of any other church.

I no more need to hear in this venue about the goingson of some or other Magyar clergyman than I need to read about the sexcapades of some or other Magyar actress or actor. For the nonce we need to concentrate on Fidesz and on Jobbik, the nemeses of Hungary.

You could have chosen better, Éva.


May 28, 2015 7:03 pm

Denying the fact that the largest, dominant church of a country is part of its culture is absurd. So is comparing sexual molestation of schoolchildren by their teacher (priest or not) with sexual escapades of an actor or actress.

May 28, 2015 7:23 pm

Politics is not just about Fidesz and Jobbik, it is about all the goings on in the country that could be improved upon by government. Protection of children is a very important issue that needs a lot of help in Hungary. Just because you might not be affected by it, doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

May 29, 2015 7:25 am

The Church is a body of institutionalised power. It has everything to do with ‘politics’ and ‘culture’, and is fair game for this blog.

May 30, 2015 4:52 pm
@ exTor It is an excellent choice of subject by Eva. But this is not a story about sexual abuse, exploitation or perversion by the Catholic Church. Neither is it titillating – at least not to me. The essence of this piece is not even about Pannonhalma – which actually owned up to wrongdoings – but about the systematic cover-up by the main line Catholic church of not only any sexual crimes, but, by extension – whatever crimes it thinks it can get away with, past and present and future. You will have bad individuals in any church – ‘Christian’ or Buddhist or Jewish or Jain – and I agree that that does not make the particular church or its adherents condemned. But that is not the real issue with the “official” Hungarian churches. The real issue is that – with, I am sure some individual exceptions – the main churches, and their leaders, have sold their souls for money, power and political influence, time after time after time. Most recently, when Orban introduced his new church laws, the ‘official’ churches happily watched on as Gabor Ivanyi and his team – who look after 1,000 homeless from their Budapest VIII… Read more »
June 1, 2015 7:54 pm

For God’s sake what has Orban, Ivanyi or the Roma community to do with a the case of a pervert monk in Pannonhalma?

May 28, 2015 7:16 pm
Unfortunately, school authorities in Hungary have never taken seriously the fact of sexual abuse against minors by teachers of any format, Catholic or otherwise. My days in school as young as 9 years old were spent worrying about whether or not I would be kept after class. I had one teacher in high school, that claimed he cared so much for me that he was concerned about my parents beating me and insisted I stay after class once a week and undress for him to appease his worries that there were no bruises on my body. When I would go to a teacher I trusted regarding the matter, she said she would “take care” of it, not to tell anyone. The teacher that was abusing me then started to make up stories of me and his little brother who I had once kissed that made it look as though I was promiscuous so my complaints would not be taken seriously and my parents were also informed by the teacher of my supposed promiscuity. Because my father was a very strict man and had given major punishment for what he was then told, he then continued with the supposed “caring” of… Read more »
May 28, 2015 9:21 pm
Being a Catholic by birth and someone who still attends church on maybe a bimonthly basis just like here in the USA these priest pedophiles will do great damage to the church. The worst part of all of this has been the cover ups that have gone up to bishops, cardinals, and Vatican officals. This has probably been happening for hundreds of years in the Church but civil authorities, and even parents were afraid to expose it. Now throughout the world this deep dark aspect of members of the Catholic clergy has been exposed and even the Pope must confront it. I have come to the conclusion that celibacy is mentally unhealthy and it has created a cult of secrecy in the Church. In the book of Matthew Jesus is to have said “there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” It was the custom at the time Jesus lived for priests of some ancient gods and goddesses to be castrated. There is no direct commandment in the New Testament that Jesus’ disciples have to live in celibacy. Nor should the male clergy and sisters have to live in celibacy today. I am not… Read more »
May 29, 2015 8:24 am

Yet there are Catholic priests who are not required to be celibate – indeed, to the contrary, they are required to marry before they are granted a diocese: Greek Catholic priests. So, the Church’s stance on celibacy for priests seems very strange.

May 28, 2015 9:25 pm


May 29, 2015 1:57 am

There are several aspects to this.
One is the celibacy problem that has been described here, another is the idea of the “elite school” with strong bonds between pupils and teachers where these things often happen – whether it’s a Catholic school or a “green”,liberal or whatever.
It’s an old, sad story but the good news is that people have woken up!
So if these kind of stories are all over it doesn’t mean that it’s happening more often nowadays, it means that people react to this – very good!
PS and a bit OT:
If you want other extreme examples:
There’s the German Odenwaldschule (an elite school), there’s the case of the Australian cardinal who suppressed reports and there’s the case of the Jesuits in the USA which sent perpetrators to villages in Alasca because they knew that the Inuit would not report them!

May 29, 2015 8:26 am

Sure not surprised by the Magyar church reaction to the situation in Pannonhalma. Kind of typical of the ironic age we live in. A supposed ‘Christian’ country not having the gumption to protect the innocent. Instead they are perceived as coddling the abuser. Really a terrible betrayal which affects not only individuals but the entire society around it. What we see is a moral decoupling between institutions and the individuals they are to serve. Reprehensible.

Not sure when the Catholic Church is going to get itself completely together on the problem of sexual abuse. My own view is that being of an institution that looks ahead to ‘another world’ it believes that it alone can handle the problem without the secular state’s ‘nosiness’. The ‘concern’ the secular state shows towards abuse and the Church’s handling of it is deemed as interference. Thus the shuffling of feet in moving along prosecution and investigation.

May 29, 2015 9:14 am

Orban is reinventing himself (for the younger generations for the first time, for older people maybe for the fifth time) and he will win.

He will be lovable and will entrench his system.

Germany and the EU and the US (represented in Hungary by that lovely, smart lady from Hollywood) will just adore him.

Liberal Hungary is so over. Hail the compassionate Orban who will spend hundreds of billions on pet projects in the coming 2-3 years.

The lefties are goners.

The discourse will be about a managed Jobbik-Fidesz fight, the left is non-existent and will soon be extinct.

Times are changing but nobody knows how to adapt to the changes better than Orban. And he will get to keep his couple of hundred billion forints he amassed too. This is a pretty good deal.

Nick S
Nick S
May 29, 2015 10:19 am

At this point most parishes in the U.S. have taken important steps to prevent further child abuse (training programs, extensive background checks, policies that prevent adults from being alone with children in private spaces). I’ve no idea whether such policies have been implemented in Hungary. But while high-ranking Vatican officials routinely decry the sin of child sexual abuse, few speak out against the sin of being so concerned with the church’s public image as to sweep crimes like this under the rug, enabling decades of abuse. Predators will always seek positions of power over children; it is the bishops who silenced victims and shuttled predator-priests from parish to parish who turned a tragic problem into an epidemic. Ironically, they did so out of fear that the church’s authority and reputation would be damaged, but ended up demolishing its moral authority in all matters of sexual morals (see the same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland). The Catholic Church will not really come to grips with the problem of sexual abuse until it confronts its own disordered attitudes towards power and prestige.

May 29, 2015 12:23 pm

Thank you for revealing this, Éva, at least to me. I taught for a year at the Piarist School in Kecskemét and had no idea one of my colleagues was a paedophile. As you say, there have been cases of abuse of this kind in schools with faith foundations in Ireland and throughout Britain too. As a Christian, it distresses me greatly.

May 29, 2015 12:25 pm

A short summary on how hungarian clergy handles clerical paedophilia:

May 29, 2015 1:37 pm

Gabor Vona of Jobbik at the Morgyrovolgy Kindergarten reading for kids.

As he should be, he is campaigning relentlessly. The left wing — it’s dead in the water.

May 29, 2015 5:18 pm

ejnye, ejnye

Who are these pundits who have absolutely nothing to say, over and over, other than that the lib-left is dead in the water? What is this? other than the latest version of the endless pannonian penchant for moaning “ejnye, ejnye” (“tsk, tsk”), scapegoating, and doing — and proposing to do — absolutely nothing about it?

May 29, 2015 7:18 pm

Re: ‘Gabor Vona of Jobbik at the Morgyrovolgy Kindergarten reading for kids’

Mr. Vona looks to be sharp. A Magyar Pied Piper. He knows it helps to get’em when they’re young. Are ‘red stars’ next?