Bishop Béla Balás’s vision of an Islamic Europe

My first surprise was that there is a Bishop of Kaposvár. My second surprise came when I read what he had to say about the bloody future of Europe as a result of the Islamic “invasion.” So I began learning about the bishopric of Kaposvár and Bishop Béla Balás.

The bishopric was the creation of Pope John Paul II. In 1993 it was carved out of the two historical bishoprics of Veszprém and Pécs, both established in 1009 by St. Stephen. Its first and only bishop so far is Béla Balás, who is now 74 years old. For some reason his nickname is “Father Concrete,” as in reinforced concrete.

He is known to be an outspoken, sometimes a bit rough around the edges kind of man who has decided that members of clergy should play an active part in politics. Initially, he was involved only in local politics and not necessarily always on the side of Fidesz, but as time went by he got closer and closer to Fidesz and personally to Viktor Orbán, whose picture adorns his study. The friendship goes back to the early years of the 21st century when he organized a meeting with Orbán, during which he and Zoltán Balog as a Hungarian reformed minister kept asking the politician about his faith. Balás most likely was satisfied with Orbán’s answers because he gave him a crosier, perhaps as a symbol of his leadership blessed by the Church.

Tolerance is not exactly Bishop Balás’s strength. His total devotion to Viktor Orbán’s illiberal democracy is combined with his conviction that “alien elements are trying to force us to our knees.” It is therefore not surprising that Béla Balás belongs to a small group of high clergymen who have voiced their opposition to Pope Francis’s ideas on the issue of the asylum seekers. The first Hungarian bishop to express his disagreement with the Pope was László Kiss-Rigó. He openly accused the Pope of not being familiar with the real situation–unlike Viktor Orbán, who fully understands the dangers of an Islamic invasion of Europe. In addition to Kiss-Rigó, a couple of other lesser known church leaders spoke out in defense of European culture. But the real bombshell came a few days ago from Béla Balás.

Balás disseminated the fruits of his “literary imagination,” which at least one media outlet called the creation of someone who had drunk a little too much wine during mass. Balás gave the following title to his apocalyptic description of the future as a result of the Islamic immigration into the European Union: “Evening News from the European Caliphate at the Time of the First Century after Christendom.” And here’s how it starts. “Yesterday we blew up the Cologne Cathedral. Next week we will start dismantling the Eiffel Tower. Apparently, some Taizé monks are hiding in the few remaining Romanian churches…. In Nuremberg the trial of the prime ministers is coming to an end. The execution of the accused will be public and attendance free. We hope the true believers will have a great time! In Leipzig they are collecting sheet music for a campfire at full moon. Bach and Mozart preferred.” And on it goes. In the last sentence the terrorists take off the red shoes of the pope (well, not this pope who doesn’t wear them, so I guess the caliphate will take a while to be established) before they shoot him and throw his body into the Tiber.

444.hu called the piece gonzo journalism, which dictionary.com defines as a piece of writing “filled with bizarre or subjective ideas, commentary.” It can also mean crazy, eccentric. One thing is sure: Balás seems to know little about Muslim countries. He talks about horses, tents, horses, sabers. As László Szily of 444.hu rightly points out, Bishop Balás got stuck in his childhood when he read Géza Gárdonyi’s historical novel about the defense of the Fortress of Eger. (Gárdonyi’s Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, in Hungarian simply The Stars of Eger, is a favorite book of Hungarians. It is read mostly by impressionable teenagers whose understanding of the Turkish times in Hungary is largely shaped by this novel, which naturally is not quite accurate historically.)

I’m just hoping that not too many people read this piece of nonsense by the Bishop of Kaposvár, which appeared only in the print edition of Heti Válasz. Viktor Orbán’s frightening propaganda did enough damage by stirring up Hungarian xenophobia. Speaking of xenophobia, I read somewhere that what Europeans call xenophobia we in North America call racism. This is something to think about. Viktor Orbán doesn’t consider other Europeans a danger to the safety of Hungarians, only people who come from outside of Europe. And Péter Boross, the former prime minister, made openly racist remarks in one of his many unfortunate interviews.

Both Kiss-Rigó and Balás are loyal supporters of Viktor Orbán. In Kiss-Rigó’s case, even at the expense of Pope Francis. Rumor has it that some of his fellow bishops wouldn’t mind at all if the Vatican forced Kiss-Rigó to retire because, in addition to his politics, there are serious questions about his diocese’s finances. As for Balás, apparently his brusque manner and outspokenness don’t sit well with his fellow bishops. Perhaps through attrition Pope Francis will be able to find less reactionary priests to lead the Hungarian Catholic Church.

October 11, 2015