Tag Archives: Pope Francis

They don’t see eye to eye: Pope Francis and the Hungarian bishops

Looking through the comments to yesterday’s post, I was struck by the general concern about the almost total disengagement of Hungarian churches from the most burning social issues of the country, the extreme conservatism of the Hungarian Catholic Church, and the Church’s antagonism to the refugees.

During religious holidays, the media usually bombards readers with articles with religious themes. Without searching very hard, I found two relevant interviews. One was conducted with Miklós Beer, the bishop of Vác. He is practically the only man in the Conference of Hungarian Catholic Bishops who takes his calling seriously and who approves of and follows the guidance of the pope. The rest, 50 years after, still haven’t even accepted the changes introduced by the Second Vatican Council. I like Beer very much; he reminds me of Gábor Iványi. Both men exhibit the kinds of qualities we would hope to find in priests and ministers.

The other interview was given to Pesti Srácok by Pál Bolberitz who, as I learned from this conversation, was the confessor of Prime Minister József Antall (1990-1993). Bolberitz manifests the less compassionate and tolerant side of the Church. We learn that Antall on his deathbed told Bolberitz that “I wanted a Christian Europe, believe me, because only such can have a future.” Yet, according to Bolberitz, the European Union “doesn’t want a Christian Europe.” What follows is a repetition of the official Fidesz view that the troubles of Europe began with the student revolution of 1968 and that “the gangsters of 68 by now are the chief bureaucrats who lead the Union and who want to force their ideas on Europe while they talk about freedom and democracy.” Bolberitz shows his true colors when, in his passionate assault on the EU, he maintains that “democracy is a nice tale; this is what the masses need.” But, he continues, there is something very wrong in Europe where “a distorted concept of freedom takes the place of God.”

I’m afraid Miklós Beer is about the only bishop who thinks that Pope Francis is true to the original and unadulterated teachings of the Church. The others might not openly say what an English cleric told a journalist of The Guardian–that “we can’t wait for him to die,” but they are convinced that the pope, being from Argentina, understands neither Europe nor the reality of the refugee crisis. The Hungarian Catholic clerics’ criticism of the pope was loud enough in the summer of 2016 for me to devote a post to the topic. Since then the relationship between the Hungarian Catholic Church and the Vatican hasn’t improved. The Hungarian government, in conjunction with the Hungarian Catholic Conference of Bishops and the city of Szombathely, devoted the year between November 2015 and November 2016 to the memory of St. Martin of Tours, who was born in Savaria, Pannonia, today called Szombathely. Pope Francis was invited, and the Hungarian Catholic leaders were very much hoping for a papal visit, but the pope sent Cardinal Dominik Duka, archbishop of Prague, as his representative. This was interpreted by Hungarian critics of the Church as a sign that Pope Francis disapproves of the migrant policies of Viktor Orbán and his supportive Catholic hierarchy.

Conference of Hungarian Catholic Bishops

A few months ago Attila Buják, a journalist for 168 Óra, wrote an investigative article reporting on the inner workings of the Hungarian Catholic Church. The information came from sources inside of or close to the Church. We learn from the article that apparently the Vatican already in the late 1980s anticipated a political change and tried to prepare for the day when democracy returns to the country. At that time four relatively young men were appointed to be bishops, but the choices were haphazard. Pope John Paul II didn’t really know the men he appointed. Moreover, being a conservative himself, he wanted people who would diligently follow the Vatican and not men with reformist ideas.

Péter Erdő’s rise in the church hierarchy gave some hope at the beginning. He was young and looked like a strong leader. His consecration as Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest in December 2002 and primate of Hungary was hailed as a step in the right direction. A year later he was made a cardinal. Clearly, Erdő was a special favorite of John Paul II. But Erdő turned out to be a weak leader who lost his position as president of the Hungarian Catholic Conference of Bishops. He lost to the super-conservative András Veres, whose “ever stronger voice was the symbol of change in the atmosphere surrounding the Church.” Veres was the first bishop who was described as “fideszes püspök.” But it would be a mistake to think that Erdő is less rigid in his adherence to dogma; he is just not as outspoken as Veres. In the latest controversy within the Church concerning giving holy communion to divorced and remarried Catholics, Erdő said that he opposes Pope Francis on this contentious issue. In fact, it is a well-known fact in Catholic circles that Hungarian bishops with good connections in Rome are in close alliance with the pope’s adversaries.

Although on the surface it is the migrant question that seems to be the chief point of disagreement, the differences of opinion between the two sides are much more fundamental. There is a visceral hatred of what Pope Francis stands for on ideological grounds. In the Hungarian Catholic media, articles about him give the impression of a “pious, good-natured but somewhat muddle-headed old man.”

At the same time, the Orbán government “is pouring money and influence into the church, giving it schools and institutions which it cannot operate on its own. One cannot escape from the government’s embrace, especially since it declares ‘Christian’ everything that is important to the government.”

Although Catholic clerics have opinions on even the most insignificant domestic issues, they have for the most part avoided making religious judgments when it comes to the refugees, which “is a truly Catholic, universal cause.” Catholic churches west of Hungary, even if not exactly enthusiastically, eventually “stood by the teachings of the gospels.” But not Péter Erdő, who came up with the lame excuse that the Church must obey the laws of the land, which forbid giving shelter to refugees.

The 2011 census was a great disappointment to the Catholic Church. In 10 years the Church lost 1.2 million people. Whether the Church’s far too close relationship with the government has anything to do with the loss of declared Catholics, as some people claim, I don’t know. I do know, however, that despite all appearances to the contrary, Hungarians today are not really religious. The number of people who attend church services regularly is very small. I also have the distinct feeling that the incredible amount of money that is given to churches is distasteful to a lot of people, perhaps even the majority of the population. There seem to be three causes close to the heart of Viktor Orbán: sports, Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries, and the churches. These causes receive huge amounts of money, which, I believe, greatly irritates Hungarians, working hard and getting nowhere.

P.S. Alex Kuli reminded us of an article that appeared in Népszabadság in September 2016 about a sermon given by a Hungarian Reformed Minister. In fact, I wrote about this incident, which I would like to quote here:

A Hungarian Reformed minister, László Károly Bikádi of Hajmáskér, a small town about 14 km from Lake Balaton, delivered a sermon last Sunday, offered to the soldiers and policemen defending Hungary’s borders against the refugees. The text for his sermon was Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his exegesis he said: “You just have to take a look at the story of the Samaritan. Jesus asks who the brethren of this man are. Everybody? Are we all brethren of each other? It is true that we are all children of God. But who are the brethren? Those who are merciful to us.” Then the merciful reverend launched into a muddled story about “us as white men who didn’t treat the colored people, be they Arabs, Negroes, Africans, Asians, as our brethren and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t look upon us as their brethren. And they are coming like locusts, coming because we chased them away from their lands. … Allow me to say that they are like ants, like the feral of the wilderness” and because the white men pushed them out from their natural habitat “they come like ants. They move into our houses. What happens with mice, voles, and other creatures of the field? They come and beset us.” He finished his sermon by asserting that although it might be our fault that these people are on the run, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of throwing out our values just because people arrived among us who don’t consider us their brethren.”

December 27, 2017

Are George Soros and Pope Francis part of a global conspiracy? Ask Zsolt Bayer

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.

July 24, 2017

Pope Francis and his Hungarian critics

Traditionally, the Hungarian Catholic Church has been led by extremely conservative prelates known for their symbiotic relationship with the state. This conservatism solidified during the communist period, when the church was cut off from all the modernizing trends that were taking place in the West.

After the return of parliamentary democracy in 1990, the Catholic Church allied itself with the governing right-of-center MDF, a Christian Democratic party. On the other side were the former communists who now called themselves socialists and the liberals with their unacceptable ideas of a secular state and their insistence on limiting the church’s role to spiritual matters. The left was obviously no place for the conservative church hierarchy. So, after the demise of MDF the Catholic Church became a steadfast supporter of Fidesz. Priests delivered propaganda sermons on Sundays before the 1998 election, urging their flock to vote for the right party. When Fidesz lost the election in 2002, they worked on the party’s behalf throughout the party’s eight lean years. In 2010 the Catholic Church became one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Orbán government’s largess.

Pope Francis

Their support for Fidesz is unwavering, even (or especially) when it comes to the refugee question. While Christian teachings would call for charity toward those in need, the Church’s humanitarian activities were minimal when thousands of refugees were stuck in Hungary for a while without any government help. Moreover, the two largest denominations, the Catholic and the Hungarian Reformed, have not criticized the hate campaign being waged against the refugees. On the contrary, some of the prelates have spread the most incredible theories about the people who are fleeing civil war and Islamic terrorism.

There are quite a few arch-conservatives in the Conference of Bishops, but perhaps the most extreme when it comes to the refugee question is Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém. In his opinion, these men, women, and children are not refugees. They come to Europe as conquerors. Millions of Muslims realize that Europe abandoned its Christian faith or, as Márfi puts it, “Europe removed the gentle yoke of Christ” and thus became a target for the yoke of Mohamed. He doesn’t care what Pope Francis says about Christian love and charity. Francis comes from Argentina and therefore knows very little about Europe.

This was Márfi’s opinion in October 2015, and with time he has become increasingly confident that he was correct in his appraisal of the situation. He even added that “migration doesn’t have causes but only purposes.” Anyone who denies this is either lying or gravely mistaken. For many of us this kind of language sounds crazy, but we mustn’t forget that Viktor Orbán himself often talked about the possibly organized nature of the refugee flow.

Not all Catholic bishops are as outspoken as Márfi, but he was not the only one who criticized Pope Francis for his welcoming attitude toward the refugees. László Kiss-Rigó, another conservative or right-wing bishop, told a journalist of The Washington Post that “they’re not refugees. This is an invasion.” He added that he was in total agreement with the prime minister. The pope, by contrast, “doesn’t know the situation.” Later, Kiss-Rigó tried to blame The Washington Post for distorting his words.

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

Gyula Márfi, Archbishop of Vác

The relationship between the Hungarian Catholic Church and Pope Francis is strained. Most of the Hungarian church leaders think that he is naïve or, worse, perhaps even a liberal-socialist misfit within the body of the universal Catholic Church. And then came a conversation between the pope and journalists on the plane between Krakow and Rome after he spent five days in Poland at the end of July, which seems to have further upset the Hungarian clerics as well as the Hungarian political right. The conversation took place after the murder of an 85-year-old priest in western France. The pope said: “I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy—someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent.”

The first reaction in the Hungarian media came from Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed journalist who works for the far-right Magyar Hírlap but also writes a blog in which this article appeared. Bayer was one of the founders of the youth organization out of which Fidesz emerged. In fact, he is the proud owner of the #5 membership card. I believe Kövér’s is #1 and Orbán’s #2. In this article Bayer tore into the pope, who in his opinion is “either a senile old fool who is totally unsuitable to be the pope or a scoundrel. Momentarily, I can’t think of a third possibility.”

A day after Bayer’s post the pro-government Magyar Idők published an article about the pope’s controversial statement but opted not to express any opinion of its own. The journalist simply quoted two English-language publications, The American Conservative and The Catholic Herald. 888.hu was less circumspect when it made fun of the pope, who thinks that “Christ might live in one of the rejected migrants.” 888.hu quoted Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, according to whom a war of religion is being waged at the moment. Islam, he claims, calls “for our destruction.” Graham argues that “what’s sin in Europe, is virtue” in the Islamic world. So, the war is on. The pope is wrong.

György Stoffán, a far-right journalist with a dubious biography in Wikipedia, went so far as to demand the pope’s resignation. According to Stoffán, Pope Francis is “not a bad man, just not a European and not a Catholic.” The pope is not only being manipulated by Jews but is a Jew himself, a son of Jewish refugees from Italy. Yes, Stoffán belongs to the lunatic fringe, but it is enough to do a quick internet search to discover that he has company: “Pope Francis is a Jewish impostor,” “biblical prophecy from book of Obadiah reveals pope’s shocking Jewish agenda.” These stories are most likely inspired by Pope Francis’s renunciation of Jewish conversion at the end of 2015. Fundamentalists immediately protested, saying that the Vatican is wrong because Jews do need Jesus. Some of these fundamentalists even said that his teachings are heretical and that he is an anti-pope.

Given Pope Francis’s views, I’m not surprised that many conservatives inside and outside of the Church find him unacceptable and would love to see him disappear as soon as possible. And once he is gone, the Church should forget about his heretical social liberalism. As for the Hungarian people, given their attitude to the alien culture of the refugees, I’m sure that they wholeheartedly agree with the critics of Pope Francis.

August 13, 2016

Angela Merkel, the refugee crisis, and Christianity

Today’s big news is that a joint survey for RTL and Stern magazine by Forsa shows that Angela Merkel seems to have weathered the refugee crisis. Her popularity, which suffered between August 2015 and February 2016, has been restored to levels that existed prior to the refugee crisis. Fifty-two percent of Germans now say that they prefer having Merkel as chancellor over anybody else. In the last few months her approval rating had slipped to as low as 44%, and it was Merkel’s open-door policies that were blamed for electoral losses for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and for the rise of a right-wing populist party called Alternative Germany (AfD). But according to this last Forsa survey, AfD now has only 10% support (down from 13%) while Merkel’s conservative bloc would capture 36% of the votes if elections were held now. Her socialist rival, Sigmar Gabriel, who would be her challenger for the post of chancellor, would receive only 13% of the votes.

This boost in Merkel’s popularity is attributed by commentators to her successful negotiations, which led to an agreement between the European Union and Turkey resulting in a considerable decrease in the number of new arrivals in Greece. In fact, there are days when not a single refugee lands on any of the Greek islands. Despite all the criticism of the deal, Europe, or to be precise Germany, now has some breathing space, which will allow the German government to work out the details of the settlement and integration of about one million refugees.

This is not good news for Viktor Orbán. The scary internet site, kvota.kormany.hu, will surely not update its information any time soon and will keep repeating, as it did today, that every 12 seconds a new “migrant” arrives in Europe, with a frightening-looking timer counting down the seconds. The site, as its address indicates, is against “compulsory quotas,” which according to government propaganda would mean the forcible settlement of 160,000 migrants. Such a compulsory settlement would increase the danger of terrorist acts, it would threaten Hungarian culture, and, on top of everything else, it would cost a lot of money. According to their estimate, the upkeep of one single refugee would cost taxpayers 130,000 forints a month. The Hungarian minimum wage is only 105,000 per month.

While the government engages in such primitive propaganda, government financed newspapers are full of horror stories about the situation in Germany, Sweden, and Finland. Merkel’s policies, they argue, lead to a dead end. Here are a few op/ed articles from Magyar Idők. On March 27 a certain “retired lawyer,” who has become Magyar Idők’s favorite guest contributor, wrote a piece on Europe where people “vote here and there, keeping traitorous politicians in power who have already sold them to the forces of international financial oligarchs.” In this undemocratic Europe “Angela Merkel is a fanatical believer in immigration and the migrants’ dispersion in the member states.” The author actually calls on the German people to dispose of her because “there isn’t much time and delay is deadly.” Citizens of Europe should “take their future into their own hands and turn these traitorous politicians out.”


On March 18 another opinion piece was published on Angela Merkel. The author, László J. Kiss, gleefully noted that “Angela Merkel is already paying a political price” for her policies. He was, of course, referring to the elections in three German states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, and Baden-Württemberg. The author was ecstatic about the success of AfD, which “rejects Merkel’s refugee policies.” According to the author, the appearance of AfD may have far-reaching consequences. In fact, it may foreshadow “the possibility of the road to a new Third German Republic.” The transformation of the Bonn republic to the Berlin republic was not as spectacular as the change from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich. In fact, it was “an uninteresting process.” A simple extension of West Germany to the East. But perhaps here is the opportunity. Although, according to Kiss, AfD is not an extremist party, its political leaders are talking about “a real revolution” which may lead to the end of the rule of the old 1968 generation. It is also possible that AfD will put an end to the left-liberal ideology that currently permeates Germany. Clearly, Magyar Idők would be delighted to see a “real revolution,” I guess the kind Viktor Orbán brought about in Hungary. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” one is inclined to say. Anyone who’s grounded in reality must recognize the total absurdity of an Orbán-like revolution in today’s Germany.

A few days later György Nógrádi, a national security expert with a checkered career, claimed that the German people “want a strategic about-face from their chancellor.” At the beginning of March the editors of Magyar Idők were certain that an agreement with Turkey was unlikely. The pro-government propaganda paper was keeping fingers crossed for Angela Merkel to fail and be removed from power. Such a stance is not at all surprising because, after all, Angela Merkel is the polar opposite of everything Viktor Orbán represents.

In this connection I would like call attention to an article by Professor Jan-Werner Mueller of Princeton University, who has written several articles and studies about Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. The German-born Mueller has family ties to Hungary. The article, “Angela Merkel’s Misunderstood Christian Mission,” appeared in Foreign Policy (March 18, 2016).

Mueller looks at Merkel’s negotiations with Turkey “in the context of the broader moral campaign that she has been waging.” He thinks that “Merkel is effectively forcing believers in Europe to choose between her own brand of ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the ‘Christian, national’ vision of a Fortress Europe propounded by leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and Poland’s Jarosław Kaczyński.” After summarizing in a couple of paragraphs the history of Christian Democracy in Germany, he describes Merkel’s “politics of small, carefully calculated steps [which] became her trademark, even globally.” But “everything changed [w]hen Merkel opened the borders for the refugees who were being mistreated in Hungary, she took a clear stance—and has stuck with it even in the face of ever more personal criticisms from within her own party.”

Observers have been debating her motives, and it seems that Mueller thinks that Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, is someone who would like to put the ‘C’ back into CDU. Merkel sees “both Islam and Christianity as having a place in Germany … as springs of moral conduct.” Sixty-one percent of Germans identify themselves as Christians, and “she has thrown down a moral challenge to her people … actually to live their faith.” The churches in Germany do support the chancellor, unlike some politicians in her own party who “declared that an ‘uncontrolled influx of refugees’ was ‘not Christian.’”

Merkel’s critics at home find supporters farther east. Viktor Orbán “was the first to shut the border to refugees in the name of defending a ‘Christian’ Europe. For him, Christianity designates a national culture closed in on itself, as opposed to a set of universal precepts. In [his] rhetoric, ‘openness’ means unfettered capitalism and unlimited individual choices…. For Orbán, Christianity serves as a convenient instrument to conduct identity politics; for Merkel, it is a way to talk about Europe’s moral integrity.”

At the end of his essay, Mueller quotes Rainer Bucher, a Catholic theologian according to whom Merkel “is presenting European Christians with a stark choice: Orbán or Francis?” It seems to me that Francis and Merkel are coming out on top.

March 30, 2016

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

The Hungarian Catholic Church is not very Christian

In the middle of July Miklós Soltész, undersecretary in charge of communication between the government and religious, nationality and civic organizations, called together the Council of Charitable Organizations, whose members are the Catholic Caritas, the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service, the Baptist Charity Service, the Hungarian Red Cross, and the Hungarian Ecumenical Aid Service. It was becoming painfully obvious that these charitable organizations were doing very little to alleviate the suffering of the asylum seekers who were arriving in Hungary on their way farther west.

The spokesmen for these organizations protested and tried to prove that quietly, behind the scenes they were hard at work. They said that they don’t like to brag about their accomplishments, that they were doing their job in a discreet manner. According to their critics, they had succeeded so well that they were practically invisible.

The media decided to look into the “quiet” activities of these organizations. Upon questioning, each of them described their accomplishments which, compared to the work of the ad hoc civilian groups, were minuscule. Two shelters that could give temporary shelter to 80 people (families exclusively), some food distribution in transit zones, psychological counseling, and occasional mobile medical service. The least active, I believe, had to be the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, which seemed to be involved primarily with refugees who had already received refugee status in Hungary. Admittedly, integrating newcomers into Hungarian society is an important job, which should be the duty of the Hungarian government. Language lessons, for example, are much more effective if they are given by professionals instead of church volunteers.

In fact, earlier we were told that there was no need for any charitable services, that the refugees living in camps were well looked after by the Hungarian government. So far this year the Catholic Caritas has sent only four trucks with food, baby food, clothes, and toiletries. In the future, they promised, they will distribute 10,000 bottles of mineral water. The Hungarian Red Cross apparently managed to get 92 million forints from the International Red Cross which is, of course, a drop in the bucket, so they are asking for contributions from the public. I have the feeling, however, that Hungarians have lost their trust in these charitable organizations and that they’d rather offer help to the civilians on the spot.

All in all, the general impression was that neither church-related organizations nor the churches themselves were doing much when it came to the refugee crisis. The silence of the so-called historic churches was deafening. Months ago György Bolgár decided to ask for an interview with Bishop Miklós Beér, perhaps the only bishop who seems to be at all sensitive to the needs of the poor and the downtrodden, especially Hungary’s Roma population. Although Beér was sympathetic to the refugees’ plight, it was clear from his answers that the Hungarian Catholic Church was not contemplating any statement about what a good Christian’s attitude ought to be toward the refugees. Pope Francis at least twice had called on Europeans to take in the desperate refugees and condemned the fences some countries were building to keep them out. In the face of the pope’s statements, it was more and more difficult for Hungarian church leaders to remain quiet.

The Conference of Hungarian Bishops

The Conference of Hungarian Bishops

On September 3 Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, gave an interview to Népszabadság which outraged those Hungarians sympathetic to the refugees. To the question of why the Catholic Church does not open its doors to refugees who need shelter, the archbishop claimed that the reason for the church’s refusal to follow the example of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who will make space for 1,000 refugees, is that Hungarian law prohibits it. Giving such shelter is tantamount to human trafficking/smuggling. This excuse, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, is nonsense. Smuggling anything or anybody can only be done across national borders.

There is nothing surprising in Erdő’s reluctance to do anything that might irritate the Orbán government. Unfortunately, the Hungarian Catholic Church throughout its history has been a steadfast supporter of the government in power, especially if it leaned right. As far as I can see, the main concern of church leaders is how much money they can get from the government.

After the backlash to his interview, the archbishop claimed that the media “misunderstood” what he had actually said. The journalist took his words out of context. His explanation was anything but convincing, and the only additional information he provided was that “the church was planning to open church properties to the refugees.” Yes, sometime in the future.

Here I would like to record two reactions. One is Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy’s open letter to Cardinal Archbishop Péter Erdő. Kerék-Bárczy, who is currently on the executive board of the Demokratikus Koalíció, was previously one of the leading politicians of the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF), a right-of-center party demolished by the machinations of Viktor Orbán. Kerék-Bárczy is a practicing Catholic.

In this letter he reminds Erdő of Pope Francis’s view that turning these refugees away amounts to “war, violence, and murder.” In June the pope called on those who build fences to beg the forgiveness of God. Many national churches have followed the pope’s instructions and teaching, but there is total silence from the Hungarian Catholic Church. Kerék-Bárczy “as a Hungarian Catholic” is full of questions. This is not the first time that he is confused. He no longer knows “what the Hungarian Catholic Church stands for.” The Bible says that “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:37). And now, a thousand years after Hungarians accepted Christianity, “a government that calls itself Christian does the exact opposite” of what Christ ordered. Instead of accepting them, it sends armed soldiers to keep them out of the country. In Kerék-Bárczy’s opinion, the Conference of Bishops should as a body take a stand against the government’s inhumane behavior. It is not enough to do charity work quietly. One must stand up and provide guidance to Hungarian society, even if that means being on a collision course with the current government.

The other remarkable reaction came from László Vértesaljai, a Jesuit monk who is editor-in-chief of the Hungarian-language Vatican Radio. He delivered a mass yesterday whose message came from the story Luke tells:

On a sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath?” And Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of man is lord of the sabbath.” (6:1-5)

In Vértesaljai’s eyes, Erdő and the rest of the leading Catholic leaders are Pharisees who hide behind the laws. There are times when the laws ought to be transgressed because they go against the teachings of Christ.

Harsh words from both Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy and László Vértesaljai and foremost from Pope Francis who this morning called on Europe’s Catholics to shelter refugees. “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family.” According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, there are 120,000 parishes in Europe.

To be fair, one Hungarian churchman, the abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Pannonhalma, has in the last couple of days sheltered a few refugee families. But one must keep in mind two things. First, Abbot Asztrik Várszegi is an exception to the incredibly conservative Hungarian clergy. Second, it seems that it was not Várszegi who went to the civic organizers and asked how he could help, as, for example, Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister, did. He was approached by the organizers who were shepherding some refugees going to Austria on foot. Almost as if these young volunteers said to themselves: let’s see what they will do. Will they follow the example of Cardinal Erdő or will they decide to act as true Christians?

I assume that sooner or later the Hungarian high clergy will be shamed into offering shelter to the growing number of refugees, but at the same time I doubt that they will do what Szabolcs Kerők-Bárczy asked Cardinal Erdő to do: to speak openly and condemn the Hungarian government for its heartless, un-Christian behavior.

A hearty laugh for Christmas Eve

A few days ago Pope Francis celebrated his 77th birthday with three homeless men–a Pole, a Slovak, and a Czech–who had found shelter under the portico outside the Vatican’s press office. Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who distributes charitable contributions for the pope, approached the men and asked them whether they would like to join the pope for morning mass and breakfast in the pope’s Vatican residence. Once they recovered from their astonishment they packed up their belongings, including a dog, climbed into the archbishop’s car, and were off to meet the pope.

As you know, Viktor Orbán’s rubber-stamp parliament just approved a piece of legislation that gives municipalities a free hand to ban the homeless from practically everywhere within the city limits. If a homeless person is caught in the forbidden locality he will be fined and, after repeated offenses, will be jailed. The outcry in Western Europe, especially in Germany, was great at the Orbán government’s criminalization of the homeless.

Gábor Pápai’s cartoon, which appeared on the front page of today’s Népszava, juxtaposes the compassion of Pope Francis toward the homeless and the heartlessness of the so-called Christian Hungarian government.

Nepszava karacsony

The poster says: VOTE FOR HEROD!