The Hungarian Catholic church and education

Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I heard it, but to my total astonishment and dismay I learned that 550 schools in Hungary have been taken over by the Catholic Church and 250 by the Hungarian Reformed Church. Of course, I knew that over the years, especially after 2010 with the active assistance of the Orbán government, the number of parochial schools had been growing, but the figures I heard yesterday simply took my breath away. I was especially alarmed since I also read that the government is working hard to convince the churches to take over even more schools since the Orbán government’s efforts to run a centralized school system have failed.

Here are a few statistics. In the 2009/10 school year there were 2,133 kindergartens, 2,019 elementary schools (grades 1 to 8), 442 trade schools, and 1,316 high schools of various types. In that year churches were in charge of 139 kindergartens, 194 elementary schools, and 168 high schools. By the 2014/15 school year the Catholic Church ran 497 institutions, the Hungarian Reformed Church 221, and the Lutheran Church 74. This is a 58% increase, assuming that the number of schools remained the same.

Many of the school takeovers had actually been initiated by the municipalities before the nationalization of schools following Viktor Orbán’s electoral success in 2010. Communities, especially the poorer ones, found the maintenance of schools without support from the central government a burden they could no longer bear. Parochial schools received more money per pupil from the government than secular schools did, so municipalities figured that the schools could be placed on a more secure footing. After the nationalization of schools, principals and teachers themselves championed for a takeover by the churches because this way they could escape the fate of being subordinated to KLIK, the mammoth “owner” of all Hungarian non-parochial and non-private schools.

Many parents believe that because of their more generous financing parochial schools are better than secular state-run schools. A list of the 100 best Hungarian high schools belies this belief. And what parents don’t think about when sending their children to parochial schools is that they will have to take the bad with the good. It is one thing that parochial schools are financially better off than state schools and that they don’t have to wage battle with KLIK for every piece of chalk. The downside, at least for parents with no religious affiliation, is that their children will be subjected to religious indoctrination and will be taught the conservative worldview one expects from the Hungarian Catholic and Hungarian Reformed churches.

I looked up the rules and regulations of Pannonia Sacra Catholic Elementary School. Reading them, I was transported back to the two most miserable years of my life when I, as a non-Catholic child of 10, had to attend a Catholic school. There was no choice. It was the only girls’ gymnasium in the city of Pécs.

Just to give you an idea of how micromanaged the children’s lives are at Pannonia Sacra, the school’s rules are 34 printed pages long. Among the many useless rules the students’ duties and rights are carefully noted, but one gets mighty suspicious about the extent of these rights when one reads that one of the students’ rights is “to practice their religion at the time prescribed by the school.” In case someone thinks my translation is faulty, here is the original: “Vallását az iskola által meghatározott időben és keretek között gyakorolja.”

These horrid white stocking seems to be a favorite at Catholic schools

These horrid white stockings seem to be a favorite at Catholic schools

In school all teachers must be greeted with “Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus” (Praise be Jesus Christ), a Catholic custom. Designated children have to check the so-called “report books” (ellenőrző) every morning. If a child doesn’t have it with him, the officially designated student will have to report him to the teacher. There are children designated “shepherds” whose duties last a whole week. They arrive at school early and “assist the work of the teachers and keep order.” They take the report books of those who arrive late and naturally inform the teacher of this terrible sin. Then there are the “pipers” who lead their classes to morning prayer. Unless I’m mistaken, no student is allowed to bring a smart phone or tablet to school because they are too expensive and considered to be ostentatious. Anyone who thinks that this is the way to bring up and teach children in the twenty-first century should send their children to Pannonia Sacra and similar Hungarian parochial schools. They’ll be well prepared for nineteenth-century life.

Horror stories rarely become public, but one such story surfaced only a few days ago about a Catholic elementary school in Sajólád, a village close to Miskolc. Even the Fidesz-KDNP mayor wants the Catholic Church out of the village’s only school two years after its takeover. The story involves discrimination against non-Catholic students. Thirty sets of parents decided to take their children out of this Catholic school and send them to Kistokaj, seven kilometers away. Some of these children were Hungarian Reformed. Others belonged to the eighty-member Jehovah Witnesses community. The parents discovered that their children had to repeat Catholic prayers, had to cross themselves, and in general were forced to participate in Catholic rituals. In addition, there were complaints of sexual molestation of younger children by older ones. If the contract with the Catholic Church cannot be abrogated, Sajólád has to put up with the present situation for twenty-five years. Right now the decision is in the hands of the Archbishop of Eger.

I should also add that Catholic parochial schools facilitate the segregation of Roma children, as Miklós Beer, bishop of Vác, admitted recently.

It seems to me that the Hungarian Catholic Church has learned nothing in the last 70 years because, the rule book of Pannonia Sacra and the stories from Sajólád (well, not the reports of sexual molestation) differ mighty little from what I experienced at the Saint Elizabeth Gymnasium run by the Notre Dame nuns. The same miserable attitude, discrimination, public humiliation, lack of charity, and total subjugation. For me the nationalization of schools two years later meant liberation.

Abandoning the idea of secular education and willingly handing education over to the churches is about the worst thing a liberal democratic society could do. Critics of the Orbán regime and opposition parties should think very hard about what to do with these parochial schools once Viktor Orbán is gone.

April 1, 2016
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No smartphones, no tablets? I can get behind that. — I held a book open inside my desk and read that rather than paying attention to the teacher. If I’d had a tablet, a smartphone… I’d never have learnt ANYTHING.


This is why I am with Richard Dawkins.

We should not forget the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, just because a half baked, deeply provincial maniac succeeded in bamboozling an admittedly ripe part of the population to submit to the corrupt and often perverse clergy ambitions, where

Secular state and strictly private religion, without state funding, e.g. German model, but for architecturally or historically valuable churches/buildings, education and charitable activities on par with other institutions.


Re: ‘That’s why I am with Richard Dawkins’

Very smart guy when it comes to his prognostications on science vs religion. But I’m not so sure where he should be involved in the discussion. The Church is doing some things which look especially egregious when it comes to propagating and being strongly behind social justice and equality within Magyar society. They at bottom are the object not his backing of scientific orthodoxy.

Sadly the Church appears to have experienced a retrograde motion in their moral responsibilities which they have always been charged with. But as to throwing the ‘baby’ out with the bath water? Not a good move. All things on this earth aren’t wholly good or evil. And the Church and its profession doesn’t get a free ride. It too like governments need to be accountable and taken to task for their actions or inactions.

As to its future course in Magyarorszag and elsewhere it apparently needs to develop better stewards in its purported mission which is to ostensibly help humanity toward developing insights into both the spiritual and temporal worlds.


Richard Dawkin’s name popped up a few times and I did not associate anything with the name. Then I looked him up and found that he was the author of books that I knew about but had not read because I could see from their titles that they advocated views that I held already. The expression science vs religion is meaningless to me because they are different categories. Science is about the real world whereas religion is about I don’t know what. Because science is about real and verifiable things it can develop and solidify. Its words have meanings universally agreed on. Religion on the other hand is formulated in words that have no verifiable or universally agreed on meaning. Religion cannot develop because nothing solid can be built on scripture and ambiguities.

Religion is claimed to give guidance about the proper way to live and behave. I would give religion some credit for that if I could see any effect of it among the people who claim to be guided.

Fascinating topic it is science vs religion. We can have a ‘hell’ of a time with it in context of Magyarorszag’s march through the historical centuries! You know Mr. Dawkins is a hero to atheists since he defends the belief strongly and rather very well. But it is a fact he’s a ‘one dog man’ in that he would love nothing better than for religion to go away and see scientific rationalism and materialism as the only ‘god’ standard when it comes to human inquiry about our world and all its perceptions. Question is is he right? I would say no if it means getting rid of a valid mode of inquiry to understand our world. In the he really wants to dump the whole religious orientation to human life. Frankly it would appear he is just a hard-line ‘fundamentalist’ as those he criticizes. The only difference is his ‘God’ is science. No problem with the mode of inquiry there. But when he suggests he knows the ‘real world’ only through science? I’m not so sure. Science surely can help parse through the atoms. But holding all the keys to nature and life as it can define everything going on… Read more »

“Fascinating topic it is science vs religion.”

I do not share your fascination. Science vs religion is a meaningles discussion beacuse only science has an unambiguous language.

Science cannot be compared to the idea of God.. There is no need for a proof of the existence of science.


Jean P.

We wish it was to simple, but it’s not – look at Sunny/Shia or
to Catholic/Protestant wars and rivalries, Catholic and Islamic political power. etc. It is all politics as well.

The ideas Dawkins espouses are basically the Enlightenment ideas – grossly simplifies, THINK and DECIDE RATIONALLY, don’t leave these to authoritative institutions or persons.


Re Sunny/Shia or to Catholic/Protestant wars:
Civil wars amongst people closely related to each other are always the worst kind, so many atrocities …
I’v already quoted here once the work of German author Karl Heinz Deschner:

The criminal history of Christianity – 10 thick volumes …
One of my brothers in law likes to quote from that – every (un)imagineable crime has been done in the name of religion …


Re: ‘Science vs religion is a meaningless discussion.

I think not. In fact probably one of the greatest now. Indeed we have seen how ‘rationality’ and materialism as well as religious thought has affected our civilization through the millennia both for good and evil.

Arguably right now we have a battle between two views of the world where ‘materialism’ and ‘religion’ define and explain our discovery of the world. There is a seemingly heightened fight for power now between the two. We can see that for example in ‘illiberalism’ where apparently the state has co-opted religious power. Ironic situation in that the religious order was one where it could be aloof from direct state opposition with regard to freedom of thought. But it appears the wind has come out of its sails. Better a bark there rather than the whimper we see on the religious side.

In any case, we do see the apparent layoff of religious belief throughout the world. And arguably this can be a two- edged sword. Certainly a point to ponder when it comes to democratic traditions in the face of that change.


what a miserable barren creature you are


Leave a skin on me brother. Or there is no redemption for RD fans? Let them burn in hell?
Have some fun before paradise ( which may be a bit boring):


Horrid white stockings? What exactly is so objectionable about that?


Perhaps because they had to be kept clean. That would certainly limit what a girl could do.


They only have to wear those stockings on special occasions. Not every day.


OK, forget stockings, think of their opressed souls tormented by the endless sin and punishment drill, the believe instead of think contrl, the confession spying game. Not to mention the Hungarion reality of often viscious politics from the pulpit (új know, where the Horthy busz stands,the Hegedűs fascist couple, etc.
The Hun clergy is Dark AgesEurope compared to Europe.
But there is more retrograde – you can try ultraOrthodox jewish life.

What are we to make of your white stockings associations re. the children? You priest?


Observer – Gedance surely meant those girls can’t play in sandboxes, can’t tie their shoes without getting the knees dirty, can’t play soccer, can’t sit in the grass and eat lunch, etc.
It was a good observation, in my view, if trivial. Good, because there is a gender difference – boys are wearing black trousers, girls skirts and stockings. Schools explicitly ask girls to wear skirts and stockings, not trousers.
My daughter always comes back from such occasions with filthy stockings – filthy from playing on the playground with her friends. The boys always get dirty too, but its easier to get the dirt out of black trousers. I don’t mind, because stockings are cheap, and bleach works wonders – but that outfit is an extra financial burden for a poor family.

Sounds like a renaissance of 19th century bog-Irish Catholicism in 21st century Hungary. I too had compulsory religious instruction (hittanóra) in first grade at the elementary school in Sziget utca (now Radnóti Miklós utca), being a Jewish kid that was born to parents who ‘converted’ to Roman Catholicism in an effort to survive the Holocaust. I even did my First Communion in Budapest Cathedral (Bazilika) where I was allowed to ‘confess’ my carefully listed ‘sins’ despite the fact that I somehow managed to loose that piece of paper before I got to the confessional. When I realized I lost my list, I fronted up to the priest leading our group and told him, teary eyed, that ‘I lost my sins’ – to the great merriment of all adults present. Next year we moved up to Svábhegy, where in the elementary school on Diana út there was no longer any religious instruction, but instead we got the full blast of communist indoctrination. By the time I was in my early teens, I was a convinced anti-communist and a total agnostic in regard to all religious and ideological belief systems. In Australia, a well-intentioned Catholic theologian tried to make me return to… Read more »


Many years ago, being a tolerant atheist, in order to accommodate my catholic in-laws and my nominally catholic wife I did not object to the children’s attending separate religious instruction (hittan) and occasional church service.
These did the job – both never came close to religion again. Sőt.
Similar experience with another such couple.
And we all lived happily ever after.


Re: ‘religious indoctrination in schools’

In reading the piece I was surprised in knowing how Catholicism was taking over previously secular schools. Just the opposite here. The Catholic schools can hardly exist today with all the great social , demographic and financial upheaval going around them. I was disconcerted to see that my grammar school in NYC where I had my first studies and imprinted memories of those priests and nuns who taught me has gone. It just could not keep up with the societal changes. And of course due to all that the Archdiocese did not want to support a relatively small church.

Because of the occurrences in Magyarorszag on Catholic school education perhaps it can be looked at as ‘religious indoctrination’ considering the educational setups. But here in the US it is a ‘choice’ now and really that’s how it has all been and probably will be in the society. And it should be forever and ever. For all democratic societies.


In view of the many news headlines in reccent years about the proliferation of sexual abuse of children by clergy within the Catholic church, the fact that “there were complaints of sexual molestation of younger children by older ones” in a Hungarian Catholic school should come as no surprise.
Presumably this behaviour was learned from the clergy themselves.

All over the world Catholic priests and clergy are now being named and shamed for their appalling crimes against children, but not a peep out of what goes on in Hungary, though it happens here too.

If parents were to find out that their children were the victims of abuse they would no doubt take action, and it would be the end of the un-holy Catholic school dominance.

Any chance, Éva, of an exposé on sexual abuse within the Catholic church in Hungary?

Eva – there’s a mistake in your piece: The white stockings and everything those children are wearing in the picture are just standard festive clothing (ünneplő ruha) required in most schools throughout Hungary these days. It’s a sort of uniform, standard throughout the country. This “uniform” existed before Fidesz came to power. The stockings are generally optional, but if there are to be stockings they should be white, and parents have their daughters wear them on colder days. There is variation in the scarf or tie – each school has its own color – but the white/black clothing combination is pretty standard. You can see kids in state school wearing their school’s colors with the outfit here: As a parent of such children, I don’t even notice the aesthetics of the outfit. It’s not what I would have my kids wear normally, but think nothing of it. I even think the outfit is “cute” when my own kids are wearing it. There is nothing wrong with it, in my view. It’s just standardized clothing for special days. On normal school days, kids don’t wear that get up. So, I think the comment about the stockings under the photo is off,… Read more »


You’re right, but pls leave these stockings alone. Usually you have much more profound thoughts.


Everyone makes mistakes. Best to correct them when we discover them (Eva usually does when they are pointed out).
That is profound enough for a lifetime.

@webber Today 5:01 am OT Some reflections on Hungarian school uniforms now and in the past These new ‘uniforms’ for festive occasions do not seem much different from the communist úttörő (pioneer youth movement) uniforms we used to have to wear, also primarily for festive occasions, except that in those days our uniform also included red scarves of the communist youth movement and blue glengarry-style caps. When I got to eighth grade and became the school captain, I also had to wear a red braid with a whistle for raising the Hungarian flag, for the occasions when we had to march up and down in celebration of this or that, or when we had to go down to Pest for marching past the grandstand under the statue of Stalin. On some of these march-past occasions I participated in my úttörővasutas (pioneer youth movement railwayman) uniform, with a unit of fellow ‘pioneer railwaymen,’ rather than in ordinary úttörő uniform together with the rest of the guys and girls from school. I was supposed to have been immensely grateful that ‘it was arranged’ that I could become a pioneer railwayman despite my bad ‘káder’ (a spawn of class enemies), and thereby significantly… Read more »

Totally OT:

I haven’t found much info on O’s visit to Washington except the official picture – which was used and modified in crazy ways by several Hungarian sites to make fun of O and how he was treated by Obama …
If you want a quick laugh look here e g:

Eva, will you write about this – is there enough material for more than a short sentence at all?

My wife told me that O took his wife and some of their children with him – how did they fly and who pays for this kind of “family visit”?


Writing about the Washington trip would be informative for the Hungarian public, but I think this blog is primarily for the benefit of those living elsewhere and interested in what’s happening in Hungary.

I don’t find it surprising in the least that Catholic schools in Hungary teach the Catechism of the Catholic Church, they do here in the USA too but these schools do not receive direct fiscal support from the government. Article 9 of the Catechism is often upsetting to non-Catholics who send their children to Catholic schools, probably more for Jehovah Witnesses or members of other Christian faiths with their own doctrine. For the atheists and other non-believers who don’t know about this Article 9 of the Catechism it contains this article of faith which is committed to memory: “This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Now since Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism the Catholic Church no longer effectively condemns members of other Christian faiths to damnation. In fact it goes further stating: “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put… Read more »

I went to Catholic and public schools and I must say that my time in the Catholic ones were far better than the public. I’d like to see a comparison between Catholic Muslim and Jewish, seems to be lots of Christian bashing here.