The rise and fall of Mária Erdő, sister of the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church

What follows is an incredible story but I have the feeling not a unique one. It is about the rector of the Apor Vilmos Katolikus Főiskola (Vilmos Apor Catholic College/AVKF) in Vác, a teachers college whose main function is the training of elementary school and kindergarten teachers. Miklós Beér, bishop of Vác, has the misfortune of being in charge of this institution, which has had its shares of scandals over the last 15 years. The original home of this teachers college was Zsámbék, where it was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Székesfehérvár, but in 2003 more than half of the building housing the college burned down and the decision was made to move the institution to Vác.

Why Vác? Because Vác had a very large building that could house the teachers college of Zsámbék. The building had originally served as the local state high school, but once it was given back to the Church, a brand new building was erected for those who didn’t want to attend a parochial school. So, the Church used it as a novitiate where at one time only 26 novices were housed. The final move from Zsámbék to Vác took place in 2004.

With the move came a new rector, Judit Szemkeö, who for a while was undersecretary in the Ministry of Education in the first Orbán government but apparently was let go before her appointment would have expired in 2002. In any case, she needed a job, and Fidesz, which usually takes care of its own, convinced the Bishop of Vác to appoint her as the new rector. Apparently, she immediately began “the methodical destruction of the institution,” starting with the wholesale firing of staff. According to the law, a rector must have a Ph.D., which Szemkeö didn’t have, and therefore she was “demoted” on paper. The Church came up with a number of priests with Ph.D.s who, one after another, were given the title of rector, but in fact it was Szemkeö who ran the show from the background. This was the situation until 2011 when Mária Erdő, the sister of Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, joined the faculty as an assistant professor. Her modest status changed within a couple of months when, to everybody’s surprise, she was named rector of AVKF.

Vilmos Apor Catholic College, Vác

The reason for Erdő’s delayed appointment was also her lack of a Ph.D. We don’t know all the details of her academic career. She most likely finished a three-year teachers college somewhere because for a while she taught as an elementary school teacher (tanító). Then, in 1989, she graduated with a degree in pedagogy from the University of Szeged. When it came to pursuing the Ph.D., she went to Katolícka univerzita v Ružomberku in northern Slovakia. This university has been in existence since 1995 in Ružomberok/Rózsahegy. It has four faculties: pedagogy, philosophy, theology, and health. A strange choice, I must say.

As for her dissertation, we don’t know in what language it was written. The professor who was the reader of the dissertation was a Pole, Jan Zimmy, who teaches at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. He referred to the title of the dissertation, in Slovak, as Mediálna kultúra – nové moznosti katolíckej vychovy a vzdelávania. We know that Erdő doesn’t speak Slovak. One person suggested that she may have defended her thesis in English. According to eyewitnesses, however, Erdő, although she claims to know both English and Russian, required the assistance of an interpreter every time she encountered foreign visitors to the college.

The dissertation was, it seems, basically plagiarized. A former psychology professor, who had lost her job at AVKF, read it and wrote a letter to both Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, and László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In her letter she claimed that she had acquired a copy of the dissertation and had come to the conclusion that Erdő’s academic title should be withdrawn because “she used falsified data designed to mislead” the granting authority. She asserted that the dissertation was basically a copy of a book that had been published in 2002. In 47 instances Erdő changed the publication dates of her sources in order to give the impression of recent research. These are serious charges, yet János Áder, on the recommendation of Zoltán Balog, bestowed a high state decoration on Mária Erdő “in recognition of her work in promoting the interests of the homeland and enhancing universal human values” two years after this fact became known.

That’s bad enough, but what was really distressing was that Mária Erdő almost totally destroyed the institution. She immediately began “restructuring,” which primarily meant staff firings. The atmosphere was such that within two years after her arrival the number of students plummeted. Between 2012 and 2013 the number of students shrank by 52%. Moreover, it turned out that about 60 degrees were granted illegally. Most of her dismissals of faculty members were arbitrary, and several fired faculty members sued the institution. In the last five years—that is, during Erdő’s tenure—the Vác police launched four investigations, but naturally they never found anything worth pursuing. Because of her authoritarian leadership, fear and tension were widespread among the faculty as well as the student body. If someone dared to disagree with one of her decisions, the next day that person couldn’t step inside the building. She also turned the institution into a kind of family business. After she got rid of the IT instructor, she hired her own husband to fill the position. Her daughter was appointed to head the office of the rector.

One more interesting piece of information about Mária Erdő. One of her former students said that when she was a lowly instructor she was so timid that “she would have even apologized to the threshold for tripping on it.” But as soon as she became a person of power and importance she became a tyrant.

She is the author of four textbooks on the teaching of religion and the general editor of 24 textbooks published and sold by the Catholic Church’s Szent István Társulat, a publishing company. In December 2012 Mária Erdő first appeared in the media when someone discovered that in her grade 4 textbook she was telling children that “homosexuality means a sexual relation between people of the same sex, which is a grave and mortal sin.” Admittedly, this is the official doctrine of the Catholic Church, but critics argued that instilling homophobia at an early age is inappropriate, especially in light of Pope Francis’s more lenient words on the subject. She also insisted that “even if a child chooses ethics instead of religion, that still should be taught in a spirit not far from the Catholic Church’s views.”

Well, this year Mária Erdő finally lost her job. The Vác Bishopric announced at the end of January that her tenure would expire on July 31 but that due to health issues she would be going on paid leave immediately. The statement said that “there is not and never was any infringement procedure against her.” Surely, one cannot touch the sister of the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church. However, Miklós Beér’s patience must have run out when, at the beginning of January, the secretariat of the office of the rector, without the knowledge of the bishopric, announced a new tender for the post of the head of the institution. Erdő most likely was trying to remain in her post through this back door. Once Bishop Beér learned about this ruse, he withdrew the illegally declared tender and removed her from the premises five months before the end of her tenure.

I wonder where Mária Erdő will end up after this fiasco. I’m sure she will receive a cushy job somewhere, where she can continue her destructive and poisonous activities. Fidesz is generous to its own. Of course, it is also possible that she will get a full time job at the Szent István Társulat, whose sponsor is Cardinal Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, who just happens to be her brother.

August 23, 2017
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Andrew Endrey
Guest

‘Mortal’ rather than ‘deadly sin’. As opposed to lesser venial sins, mortal sins lead to complete separation from God and require absolution by a priest.

dos929
Guest

This is the standard ‘modus operandi’ of the Orban regime at every level and at every government institution. Talentless ‘nobodies’ are filling positions with fake diplomas and attitudes, the prime example being the ex Head of State, Schmidt Pal… And the saga surrounding his departure is similar to that of Mária Erdő. How any foreign dignitary is still talking to this lowest of the low regime is a mistery….

Guest

Corruption and stupidity are strongly connected it seems – and the Catholic Church has lots of it!
I’ll stop now before I get angry – had too many experiences with it as a youngster in Germany. But I should be thankful because these experiences helped me “lose religion” as a boy already, so I could grow up without problems.

Michael Kaplan
Guest

Sad story. Thank you for your ethical reports, especially the comments regarding the sad status of gay Hungarians in Magyar school books. The prejudice by this “professor” is sad, but given her unethical behavior, we can expect nothing better. She has apparently forgotten the golden rule, let alone other spiritual teachings. Michael Kaplan, your loyal supporter!

Istvan
Guest
Nothing too shocking about Hungarian Catholic fourth grade text book discussion of homosexuality as a “grave and mortal sin.” Much worse has taken place in some diocesan school districts here in the USA, for example https://www.advocate.com/religion/2015/08/27/illinois-bishop-reminds-gay-parents-catholic-schools-will-teach-youre-sinning If a family does not want their child indoctrinated in the Catholic faith, then they should not put their child in the Catholic school system. This why the Catholic Church has what is called the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. This is normal Eva and such indoctrination targeting children exists in all religions and in all countries. I even saw it amongst Catholics in Vietnam in 1972. This is one very good reason among many for the separation of church and state, it is why I oppose public funding of Catholic or other religious education world wide. Our children were secularly educated even though both my wife and I are generally religious people, she is a Methodist and I am of course a Catholic. Our marriage was itself a doctrinal violation of Catholicism because we did not at the time of marriage agree to raise our children in the Catholic faith, at that time it was formally required that a document be… Read more »
bimbi
Guest
@Istvan, 7:45 a.m. “… and I am of course a Catholic”. Istvan, where on earth does the “of course” come from in your declaration? Reflect, will you not, for a minute on the perpetual state of forced sodomy against minors that the Catholic Church in the USA and elsewhere (Ireland, Australia…) has supported these many years, with participating priests shuffled on to new posts where they can wreak their evil again? But then, “I am of course a Catholic”. Reflect for a minute on the active support of the policies of Nazi Germany provided by the Catholic Church. But then, “I am of course a Catholic”. Or, closer to Magyarország, the recent pronouncement by the head of the Catholic Church here who found himself unable to lift a finger in simple charity to needy refugees “because we might be accused of people trafficking”! But then, We are of course Catholic”. The corrupt, dishonest, false and horrific record of the Catholic Church over the centuries and still today speaks louder and more enduringly than the Articles of Faith, the Creed and the reverence for the V.M., bless her old brown boots. As Christopher Hitchens neatly put it: “Play with your toys… Read more »
Member

You seem to be reading a lot into those two words, Bimbi.

I don’t know Istvan, but it seems to me that you’re going a bit far by connecting his choice of compound adverb to Nazis and child molesters.

Gergely Sandor
Guest

I would really appreciate hearing your views on our Hungarian Liberal citizens who promote the idea to bring ANTISEMITIC and ANTI-CHRISTIAN YOUNG MUSLIM CROWDS to Hungary. Do they want a NEW HOLOCAUST in EUROPE ? Then WHO IS THE REAL “ANTISEMITE” ? !

petofi
Guest

@bimbi

“I am, of course…”

Istvan gives himself away–the proud Hungarian and the TRUE Hungarian can ONLY be a Catholic.
(Imagine what that makes jews in Istvan’s subconscsious…)

Istvan
Guest

The context of that statement was relative to my wife being a Methodist. But Catholicism is more than a religion of choice it’s also a community, a community one is more often than not born into. Just as my wife was born into the Methodist church.

I am highly aware of the problems in the Catholic Church as is obvious from my reference to the books by Nuzzi, so are many of us here in the USA. None the less many of us remain Catholics, the reality of faith is deeper than the corruption in the church.

Jean P.
Guest

“…the reality of faith is deeper than the corruption in the church.”

I understand that the corruption in the catholic church is more tolerable to you than your possible excommunication.

Istvan
Guest
Even those in the Catholic Church here who have exposed the sexual abuse of children by priests have not been excommunicated. In Chicago there is an organization of adults who suffered abuse by priests called SNAP, Suvivors Network of those Abused by Priests they meet once a month. They have worked to expose how the Church hierarchy actually protected abusing priests by allowing parish to parish transfers rather than exposing them to criminal charges. None of the leaders who are well known to the Church have been excommunicated. There are also Catholics who have publicly called for allowing marriage for priests, who have opposed the Church’s position on homosexuality, there have been no excommunications of those Catholics. They is for sure animosity in the Church for taking these issues outside the Church, but no excommunications. Lastly, in my own situation I have publicly discussed within the Church the role the Church played in allowing numerous Central European fascists to escape criminal charges following WWII for their roles in the Holocaust and get to the USA. In some cases they were provided with false Vatican passports and followed what are called the “rat lines” out of Europe. Some also went to… Read more »
Jean P.
Guest

Now I understand that criticism of the the church positions on many different matters are allowed within the church. Otherwise most of the catholics would have to be excommunicated.

I missed corruption (e.g. nepotism) in the church hierarchy in your list of what you can get away with exposing and critizing.

Guest

Istvan, we were all horrified when we read about te “ratline” many years ago – but it of course proved for us the abominable position of the Church authorities, just as denying sexual abuse …
Do you have any ideas why the bishops and cardinals did this – everybody outside the Church (and some inside as you show) would spit on them if we met those sleazebags!
The brother of the last German Pope is among those who helped some paedophile bishop …
And the story of bishop van Elz who spent more than 10 million € (or maybe even 30 million) on his private quarters …

wrfree
Guest

Re: the Magyar church and her caretakers

It would appear that contrary to expectation of the ancient institution it takes the position of ‘kneeling before the world’. It is a departure from the Christian tradition of viewing the latter as ‘in the power of the evil one’.. (John 5:19) and thus to be very careful and wary of it.

The Erdo situation does once again show how the Magyar Church serves two masters with the modern state apparently to be its primary benefactor. Back to the Europe of the 18th where ‘royal courts’ controlled ecclesiastical function over Rome.

When it comes to religion in Magyar society, one thing which can be said is that the fusion of faith and society has proved inimical and dangerous to the Church where it has seriously affected its range in carrying out its professed goals in the modern world it works in. And that is adhering to principles of human dignity, human rights and religious toleration. It appears that the ‘servants’ are compromised in fulfilling their spiritual as well as earthly duties. They kneel too too deeply to another ‘god’.

Guest

A bit OT:
A scathing article by David Matthews on “The Times Higher Education” – the site which also publishes those damning lists of the quality/ranking of universities worldwide where Hungarian universities never make it into the top 500 …

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/the-state-of-higher-education-in-hungary

It tells the story of the CEU – but it also contains many stats and graphs which show that the Fidesz government spends less and less on the universities …
Hungary going down the drain …

wrfree
Guest

In a nutshell, VO’s vision for his country and people in the area of being ‘educated’ is abominable. He at bottom makes a low bar for all regardless of their persuasion for contributing to their society with their heads or with a hammer. VO is appears completely oblivious to the concept of learning in human beings.

If Magyar higher education proceeds as contemplated the banging heard off the ‘low bar’ will be the sound of the action of Orbanian stupidity bumping against the attempt of minds struggling to be free with imagination and accumulated knowledge in order to take their rightly felt place in the world.

And it is dismal indeed to perhaps see proverbial ‘straitjackets’ on students who dare to acquire certain ‘university’ knowledge and learning. For at this time apparently all books are ‘dangerous’ books as they make ‘thinking’ and analysis apparent verboten activities.

Guest

A bit OT:
The discussion on education and books reminded me of course of “Fahrenheit 451” (The film by Truffaut based on the book was shown yesterday on 3SAT) and I asked my wife who has read quite a lot of Science Fiction and she said – she didn’t know it!

Obviously in “Communist” times non-political or even critical (of Capitalism …) books were translated into Hungarian like Asimov’s, Gibson’s etc – but books like this or 1984 were not!

Pole
Guest

Catholic University in Ruzenberok is infamous in Poland because of its the lack of standard of scientific integrity in process of giving scientific degrees to people who have problems in receiving them in their own home countries. This University was popular subject of travel of polish scientists who wanted to do habilitation. (Scientific degrees in Poland between PHD and professor.).

Jean P.
Guest

OT but scandalous. Putin is going to be made doctor honoris causa by
Debrecen University.

Debrecen is the home of the Institute for Nuclear Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ATOMKI

Aida
Guest

This is a pretty sad and probably rather typical story of a woman who is helped by her successful brother but is as ever out of her depth. She then has to be seen to have been an OK choice not to let down brother.
If I had a brother, I would help him to get somewhere beyond his abilities only if I knew that I was so powerful that no backlash could hurt me.
Although there are some Hungarian aspcects to this story, it is essentially a Catholic Church gig. What could be more tedious?

Observer
Guest

The Hungarian Catholic Church prelates seem to be the most corrupt in the region – they served well the Horthy era, then cosied up to the Communist regime, then celebrated democracy withveveryne and now serve Orban’s fascist regime.
Add the nepotism, the corrupt business dealings, the incompetence and the appaling personality, all at the top. What a rot.
God bless Bishop Beer for doing something good and moral.

Gergely Sandor
Guest

And what about the fact that Many of the Hungarian Jews belonged to the Highest Elite of the Communist Dictatorship ? Apologizing should also be expected from their community FOR THIS.

petofi
Guest

@ G. Sandor

re: “Hungarian jews belonged…”

Yes, well, what choice did pre-war jews have? Join the anti-semite parties or communists?

Observer
Guest

Gergely S
How do communists, Jews, etc come here when we discuss the corruption and amorality of the H Catholic church, past AND PRESENT?

wpDiscuz