A few months ago Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed journalist who was one of the founding members of Fidesz, publicly announced his intention to watch his language and to remain within the bounds of acceptable journalism. Well, it didn’t take long before he was back in his usual form. His latest is an incredible attack on Pope Francis, which went so far that even the editor of Magyar Kurír, the official newspaper of the Conference of Hungarian Bishops, wrote an editorial about it, which is a sharp turn from the Church’s past practice of ignoring Bayer.
The independent Hungarian media has the bad habit of forcefully reacting to every objectionable word Bayer writes or utters. Critical journalists and politicians on such occasions announce that “we thought that one cannot sink lower,” after which they sadly note that “one obviously can.” It seems that even journalists’ memories are short because there is absolutely nothing new in Bayer’s preoccupation with and denigration of Pope Francis. He has been preoccupied with the pope for at least two years.
Before we condemn, as we should, Bayer for his intemperate attack on the pope, we must keep in mind that the leaders of the Hungarian Catholic Church share some of Bayer’s views. Of course, they don’t call the pope “an ass” because he calls on European Christians to support the refugees, but they share Bayer’s belief that Francis, by virtue of coming from Argentina, is unfit to handle the European crisis and that he is naïve in the extreme. Some of the more outspoken right-wing bishops like Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém, and László Kiss-Rigó, bishop of Szeged-Csanád, spoke quite openly about the pope’s ignorance of European reality.
The first example of Bayer’s writings on Pope Francis is from June 2015, in which we already find the kernels of his fully developed opinion on the pope–that his ideas were shaped by the fact that he was the son of “migrants,” his family was poor, and he is from “far-away Argentina.” Europeans wait in vain for Pope Francis to come to their rescue in these hard times; he ignores them and moves on to “the army of ferocious, screaming, murderous strangers.”
A couple of months later he went further and called Francis “either a senile old fool who is totally unsuitable to be the pope or a scoundrel.” When the leader of the Christian Democratic Party’s parliamentary delegation was asked to comment on Bayer’s description of Pope Francis as “a senile old fool,” he pretty much stood by Bayer, pointing out that the pope’s solidarity with the downtrodden is stronger than his feeling of responsibility for the safety of Europeans. Zoltán Balog in an interview brushed aside Bayer’s choice of words by saying that after all Zsolt Bayer is a Lutheran, and “one should read what Martin Luther had to say about the pope. In comparison [Bayer’s] words are outright tame.”
A few months later, at the end of 2015, he wrote his most comprehensive assessment of Francis and his unfitness for his job. It is not enough that he favors the migrants because his own family were immigrants and that he doesn’t understand Europe because he came from another continent. He is also an enemy of nations and thus must be a foe of Orbán’s Hungary. How do we know that? Francis abolished the papal “tradition” of incanting Easter and Christmas greetings in 60-odd languages after delivering the Urbi et Orbi Message. Bayer describes the moving scenes of people raising their national flags on St. Peter’s Square after they heard the greeting in their own language. This pope is like the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who turned his countries upside-down because of his mad, zealous reforms. As a result, he almost ruined his empire. “Today’s pope is not a believer in the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church.” He is moving away from what he considers to be antiquated and old-fashioned and is establishing new traditions alien to the Catholic Church. But he should have noticed that the reformation of the church is normally demanded by non-Catholics. By removing the multilingual greetings, the pope “removed the nation, the homeland, and the national language from the stage of the world.” In fact, “Francis is working on the creation of a United States of Europe instead of a Europe of nations.” Indeed, George Soros, Pope Francis, and Ferenc Gyurcsány, the only Hungarian politician who dares to suggest such a heresy, are comrades-in-arms.
This is an imaginative theory that has little to do with reality. There are at least two problems with Bayer’s argument. The first is that this “ancient” tradition is only 50 years old. Pope Paul VI introduced it in 1965 when the decision was made to conduct mass in the local tongue instead of Latin. The second problem is that if Pope Francis is such a universalist, why did he decide only recently to abandon Latin as the official language of the synod of bishops? Yes, from here on the language of the synod will be Italian, the lingua franca of the Vatican. That doesn’t mesh with Bayer’s ideas on Francis’s alleged hatred of nation states and national cultures.
And now comes the latest upheaval over Bayer and Pope Francis. This time it was an interview with Bayer at a local television station in the town of Miskolc that caused the Hungarian non-governmental media outlets to raise their voices against the extremist Fidesz journalist. During the interview he repeated his earlier objections. The pope has a non-European past, when it would be of the utmost importance to have a European pope who represents “European interests.” In his opinion, the pope is no different from the politicians of the European Union because he goes against the will and goals of European citizens. “Do not imagine that what [the pope] says is divine revelation. It is only stupid, moronic political opinion,” Bayer said.
It looks as if Bayer’s notions about the pope have evolved over time because by now he is convinced that “it is no accident that a non-European man became the pope.” I guess it was part of an international conspiracy. Knowing something about how these guys’ minds work, I can easily conjure up a scenario by which George Soros and other Jewish financiers with business designs on a Europe with a mixed population conspire with the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church to pick a man who would serve their interests. One could call this, as does Christopher Adam of Hungarian Free Press, typical double talk, but since Bayer a couple of days after the interview insisted that he had listened again to the interview and would not take a word back from it, I think he actually believes this foolish idea which, let’s face it, is not very far from the thinking of the top Fidesz leadership, including that of Viktor Orbán. I would like to remind everyone that Orbán, especially during 2015, kept repeating that the move of so many refugees at once “cannot be a coincidence.” And if it is not a coincidence, then it is the result of design. But design on the part of whom?
I guess by now it is clear to readers that I see no serious differences between the thinking of the mainstream Fidesz and Catholic leaderships and the ideas of Zsolt Bayer, expressed in crude prose. The message is more or less the same. I suspect that the reason for Viktor Orbán’s lenient attitude toward Bayer’s “artistic endeavors” is his satisfaction with his old friend’s way of expressing his and his government’s position in down-to-earth, direct language that can reach audiences on the far right. Two years ago I reported on a far-right journalist who claimed that Pope Francis is not a bad man, just not a European and not a Catholic. He is not only manipulated by Jews but is a Jew himself, a son of Jewish refugees from Italy. It is these people Bayer is supposed to reach, most likely with Orbán’s blessing.
Admittedly, this kind of talk comes only from what I call the lunatic fringe, but even Magyar Idők and subsequently Válasz in August 2016 reported the discovery that in countries with a sizable Catholic population George Soros targets the Catholic church with the goal of influencing public opinion on issues he cares about. He spent a great deal of money, for instance, to convince Catholic priests in the United States to emphasize issues that would help the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. When the right-wing internet site Flag Polgári Magazin republished the article, its title was changed to “Shocking! A leaked e-mail reveals why Pope Francis supports migration at any cost.”
Linking George Soros and Pope Francis is perhaps the quintessential conspiracy theory. Zsolt Bayer is helping the far right develop its conspiratorial imagination.