A new Catholic school in Kecel: The problem is that it is the only school

I have been watching with growing alarm the spread of parochial, largely Catholic, schools. The Hungarian state even before 1918 pretty well left education in the hands of the churches. There was a network of state schools, but they were primarily elementary schools in villages. High school education (gymnasiums) was for the most part the domain of the Catholic Church. There were even larger cities where there was not one secular high school in town. Either for boys or for girls.

That was the situation in my hometown, Pécs. Once a student reached the age of ten and was ready to attend gymnasium, no matter what the child's religion was he or she had to go to a Catholic school. Interestingly, before 1918 there was one state-run Realgymnasium in Pécs, which my father attended, where they taught German and French but no Latin. Not surprisingly the students were mostly Jewish and Protestant kids. But between the two world wars it closed its doors. From there on there was no choice. 

Even the state-run elementary schools were not quite free of Catholic influence. For example, my very first day in school (grade one) began with a Catholic mass in a nearby church. No one asked us whether we were Catholics or not.

Well, something very similar is happening in Kecel, a town of 9,000 inhabitants. The upkeep of public schools is shared by the central government and the local community. While in the United States about 80% of local property taxes go for the maintenance of schools, in most Hungarian towns there is no property tax or, if there is, the amount collected is minuscule. The local governments are very shaky financially, and the upkeep of a school places a considerable financial burden on them. Thus, especially in the past year when the Orbán government eased the transfer of schools from the towns to the churches, the spread of parochial schools has been rapid. Even in places where there is only one school, like Kecel.

The mayor of the town thinks that getting rid of the school (grades 1 to 8) serving 700 students was an excellent move. When the mayor and the members of the city council were reminded that after all there is only one school in town and not everybody wants to send their children to a Catholic school, the answer was that 90% of Kecel's population is Catholic. In the first place, it is hard to know how the good mayor knows the percentage of Catholics in town, but even if 90% of the population were baptized as Catholics it means little. Nationwide only 13% of professed Catholics attend church. Hungary is not Poland–at least not yet.

But what is really troublesome is that the new Catholic administration appears to be very aggressive. Initially, the newly appointed principal announced that all children must attend mass and receive Catholic religious instruction. An early announcement indicated that those who don't want to attend mass or receive religious instruction will be bussed to a town about 20 kilometers away. The new principal called in the teachers and made it clear that unless they attend mass they will not be hired.

The new principal also made sure that not too many people would complain about the Catholic takeover of the school. A parent who didn't want to send his child to a Catholic school had to give reasons for his decision in writing.

Eventually there was some retreat from the original position. The principal softened his demand about attending mass. Only three times a year will it be compulsory to be present at mass. He eventually even stated that those who don't want to participate in the proceedings don't have to cross themselves, sing, or kneel at the appropriate times. They can sit quietly, but they have to be there. Not the end of the world, he said. When teachers' attendance was mentioned, he told the reporter who was inquiring about the situation that, after all, this wouldn't be the first time teachers had to do something they didn't feel like doing. When asked to give an example, he said that in the socialist period they had to go out to demonstrate on May 1. So, red flags then, church attendance now. Or as one teacher said in another town in a similar situation: "We used to be pioneers, now we will be Catholics."

The principal also eventually changed his dictum on religious instruction. He promised that the local ministers will be able to instruct non-Catholic children on the teachings of their own religion and, if a parent doesn't want to have his child attend religion classes at all, the child can attend "moral philosophy classes." Religious instruction will be part and parcel of the school curriculum. The children will be graded in religion but, the principal said generously, no child will fail the subject. (Want to bet? Perhaps the wayward ones will simply be shipped off to the neighboring public school.) As for "moral philosophy," it will be taught by the principal himself. I can well imagine the curriculum.

A very close connection between the state and the Catholic Church is being forged under the Orbán government, especially because of the pressure exerted by Christian Democratic Party. It is hard to say what Viktor Orbán's personal views are on the subject, but on the surface he acts as if he were supporting this alliance between church and state wholeheartedly. The Catholic Church is putting its full weight behind the Orbán government just as in the past decade or so it promoted the cause of Fidesz. Priests in churches gave political speeches instead of sermons and children in parochial schools were used to campaign on behalf of the party. But this support comes at a high price; the Hungarian Catholic Church is demanding more and more funding from the government. For the time being it seems that Orbán thinks that this financial burden is worth it because it is bringing positive political results. However, too many controversial cases like the one in Kecel might be counterproductive. Perhaps a basically a-religious people will get tired of little tyrants like the new principal of the Catholic school in Kecel.



  1. “growing alarm” is an understatement.
    For those who read in Hungarian:
    Separation of church and state are one of the VERY cornerstones upon which a modern society is built on.
    On the other hand: Orban Viktor is not alone. Anyone please look at the US initiatives about the “voucher” idiocy or how some charter schools work! I live close enough to Colorado Springs.
    They are all going to lose in the end because of who they are: right wing nuts flirting with fascism /where they feel most comfortable/. They are devoid of social responsibility, ideas or a heart. Re-re-re-rehearsing the past leads nowhere.
    These issues in the twenty first century???
    Don’t we have enough real problems? Kidding me? And what will it take? Do they want to be decapitated just like we used to do it with them /it works/ through the past four hundred years? As opposed to them we are not into rehashing history. But what else can we do at this point? What part of NO they don’t get? Any new ideas /hopefully/?
    Peter Litvanyi

  2. off topic: a list of those who were sacked.
    The Media Law “Thing”.
    A ma elbocsátottak listája.
    by Szól a Rádió (Az FB csoport hivatalos oldala) on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 1:20pm
    Bogár Zsolt (MR1, 180 perc)
    Bödő Anita (MR1, 180 perc)
    Érczfalvi András (MR1, Napközben)
    Gócza Anita (MR1, Gondolat-jel)
    Győri László (MR3)
    Hatvani Tóth Erika (MR1, Krónika)
    Horváth Ida (MR1, Vendég a háznál)
    Kardos Ernő (MTV)
    Kovács Anna (MR1, Közelről)
    Kovács Gabi (MR1)
    László Pál (MR1, Közelről)
    László Judit (MR1, Szombat délelőtt)
    Lehoczky Orsolya (MR3)
    Marton Éva (MR1, kulturális műsorok)
    Nagy Emese (MR1, 180 perc)
    Nánási Gabriella (MR1, Közelről)
    Nej György (MR1)
    Németh Árpád (Duna TV, Térkép)
    Németh Erzsébet (MR1, sportműsorok)
    Nyárádi Péter (MR1, Harminc perc alatt a Föld körül)
    Pais Judit (MR1, Hajnal-táj)
    Péter György (MR1, Napközben)
    Rábai Balázs (MR1, 180 perc)
    Rovó Attila (MR1, 180 perc, Közelről)
    Sándor Erzsi (MR1)
    Sándor Kata (MR1)
    Solténszky Tibor (Rádiószínház)
    Szénási Sándor (MR1, Közelről)
    Szente László (MR1)
    Udvarhelyi Szabolcs (MR1, Európai idő)
    Urbán Szabolcs (MR2)
    Varga Viktor (Rádiószínház)
    Várkonyi Benedek (MR kulturális műsorok)
    Zoltán Gábor (Rádiószínház)

  3. I liberal cleanup in the MTV (Hungarian “state” television) was started today.
    They fired their ONLY Roma broadcaster, Timea Daróczi. Here you have it: the Orban governments Roma strategy.

  4. This is truly awful. On the other hand, the Hungarian society doesn’t tolerate religious pressure at all (as I thought OV learned during his first tenure). If this goes on, they could give up on many parental votes. And from my personal experience, religious schools trying to impose arch-conservative morals end up producing the most screwed up kids (of course, in the modern world they have no answers to the most important questions of an adolescent who are left without guidance if their parents are just slightly ignorant). Moreover, most of those who make it through with a sane mind usually become the most violently anti-catholic.

  5. Now, that Viktor Orban found God after so many years, I think Hungary must get ready for the Crusades. In Canada, we do have a five-tier education system. We have four public school boards, English Public, French Public, English Catholic and French Catholic. We also have the private system. All five falls under the Provincial Education Ministry, but only the first four receive funding. On our property tax forms we have to decide what Board we will support with our taxes. This does not mean that you are obligated to enroll your child to the Board you selected. Depending who you support, you will vote for the Trustee for that Board, when the election comes up. Funding comes from various sources, from municipal and from city levels. To participate in the Catholic School Board’s elementary education you must be a catholic, and it must be proven. This does not apply from high school and up. Bussing children is the responsibility of the relevant Board. In public education there is no religious aspect whatsoever, but the observance of various religious or non-religious holidays are across the board and very lovely. It gives a great opportunity for kids to learn about other cultures to talk about Kwanza, Christmas, Hanukah, learn about Chines New Year and the list goes on.
    The bottom line is that the government creates opportunities based on information received from the public, than from enrollment numbers. If a town’s projected enrollment would not support to establish a Catholic school, then the Catholic Board’s funding would not support the building, maintaining and salaries for a Catholic school. AS always, Fidesz choose to wag the dog versus wag the tail, and decided to finance a school prior to do the necessary work. Would people tell the truth in a “survey” by Fidesz? THat would be a completely different subject, knowing that probably 90% of people would not believe that their answer would not come back to haunt them…

  6. Is there any publicly available document that discloses the criteria of selecting the people who will loose their job from the State Media? I mean I do understand that they need to cut back, but is there an official ranking of popularity (viewership) index somewhere, or someone arbitrary decides what programs he/she likes?
    Also, I am not sure if at this point is it better to be fired, better to be kept on the roll or better to leave voluntarily It could tell a lot of one’s character any of the three. It must be tough for those with families to support.

  7. Church and State should be separate. Schools ran by any religion should not be allowed. Of course now that any nut job wacko can open a school and get state funding where will we be? In case you are confused- I am talking about the situation in England. I avowedly believe that religious organisations should have no part in state education- wherever. The present sectarian situation in Scotland will never go away if separate Catholic schools continue. A sticky situation considering Catholic and Church of England Schools in the UK get very good results and have parents fighting to get their kids into them whether they are religious or not. I am sure that the situation will be similar here in Hungary. Bit astounded by the replacement of one compulsory belief system with another philosophy!

  8. Ok here we go! The actions in the town of KECEL by the ‘city Fathers and the head master of the High school are, beyond doubt ,contrary to 8 articles of the European Charter of Human Rights. These are (in the Nice Version) articles 7,10,12,14,20,21,22 and worst of all 54. So Johnny Boy, you and your mates down at the Bunko-drome, you will all will have to peddle your Hungarian ‘BUNK-O-MATICs’ (© Mutt Damon MMXI) like fury on this one!
    Someone in the Education Authority decided that all the school district should calibrate the 900th year some local saintess who had come sort of nasty sticky end. They never ever tried that one again. Heads rolled as well as the cost of cleaning up the smouldering hassocks and screwing the pews back together

  9. Never mind the human rights issues, I would have thought that Kecel municipality should have followed the rules on competitive tendering for government services. If they invited groups (including the existing teachers) to register and make sure they had the neccessary licences before submitting a tender, or if nobody else wanted to take on the job then nobody should complain too much. If not, maybe the teachers union should take the whole matter to court and use the force of law to make sure that Fidesz-KDNP and their friends in dog-collars can’t make cosy little deals in future.

  10. Lutra lutra: Interesting point. You may be right, but the question is whether they look at local level or at the total deal. If at local level it may not be necessary due to the size of the deal.

  11. Is the Catholic Church also providing the financing of the schools? Then it does not sound as if pressure from KDNP were decisive but the pressure from the state budget. But where does the Church get its income from, from property?

  12. Kirsten: “Is the Catholic Church also providing the financing of the schools? Then it does not sound as if pressure from KDNP were decisive but the pressure from the state budget. But where does the Church get its income from, from property?”
    The state provides every penny of it. The state gives more to parochial schools than to public schools.

  13. In a way this is funny – reminds me of my experiences with the German school system 55 to 60 years ago.
    In the town where I grew up (Black Forest) we had a Catholic Primary school (5 classes) and a Protestant Primary school (3 classes) – in the same old school building with a new wall separating us …
    So at six years of age my religious orientation got the first knockout when I heard that my best friend would go to the “other” school – because he was a Catholic.
    A few years later the parents were asked whether they wanted this system of separation to continue – and the Catholic director of the Gymnasium that I was in was strongly in favour of this instead of one Primary school for all the children.
    We tried to discuss this absurdity with him in school, but were told to keep our mouths shut – that was the total end of religion for my classmates and me – we never went to church anymore and later (after we had finished school) told our teachers we would not come to any school reunion as long as this religous nut was at the gymnasium.
    25 years later I went and asked my teachers about it and they were still quiet …
    I didn’t think similar things could still go on in Europe in the 21st century – but this is Hungary aka Absurdistan …
    PS: I’m so happy that no one in my wife’s family has any connection to any religion at all – the young ones are just laughing at it …

  14. Dear everyone;
    I think we are clear and in agreement about most of it. There was a “social contract” /dating back to? a question to Eva/: the state /in my case it is a bit more complicated: state/federal level / does two things. For one it guarantees /pays for ie./ an education /K-12, high school or equivalent/ for everyone /including bussing and so forth/. For two it does have/enforces an “accreditation” system that makes sure that all diplomas have the same minimal value based on our current scientific understanding of the world.
    All that luxury in most civilized countries is financed by property taxes as Eva pointed it out. How else?
    Now if you want to opt out of the system: there should be a way and you should get a hefty tax credit /equivalent to what the state doesn’t spend on your kid/ that is if you wish so. That is AS LONG AS your kid goes to another accredited institution. My friend Brian is “homeschooling” his kids; they pass a few tests every month. Thus he gets his money.It is a registered and successful educational program in our mountainous state. So is the case with many whatever Church owned schools: they are not part of the “social contract” package thus the parents get back what they didn’t use from the state budget /manifesting as tax returns/ as opposed to the tuition they pay; they are private institutions with all the rights of hate that comes with it /NO blue hair or NO tongue rings/; they are “profit” and some of them are very good. And that’s good as long as they are accredited and don’t violate other federal laws relating to…many things.And of course state run schools should respect religious rights should I say it “religiously”? If you haven’t already read that book; well yom kippur won’t save your sorry ass. You can still claim that couple days though. Civil Rights thank god. And god knows: maybe the kid really celebrates the long week of Apologies?
    I am sorry that I bored everyone. It’s all sooooo obvious.
    It’s just this obviousness doesn’t seem to be evident in the world. Like in Hungary /just an example/. What went wrong?
    Peter Litvanyi

  15. Peter Litvanyi: “Now if you want to opt out of the system: there should be a way and you should get a hefty tax credit /equivalent to what the state doesn’t spend on your kid/ that is if you wish so. That is AS LONG AS your kid goes to another accredited institution. My friend Brian is “homeschooling” his kids; they pass a few tests every month. Thus he gets his money.” In Ontario you do not get a credit if you enroll your kids into private institutions or if you home school. You will pay the same tax regardless if you retired or you do not have any children. Ontario does provide a yearly family benefit cheque (based on income) after every family member under 4 (or 6, I cannot recall). THere is also an up to $500 tax deduction opportunity with the cost of any extracurricular activity (ballet, gymnastics, art classes, etc.)

  16. Florian in the U.K. the local Authorities in the state funded church school’s catchment area appoint governors (usually from another sect). That puts a stop to most of the shenanigans. They also appoint governors to the secular schools. My old hedge school had two further groups of supervisors/visitors (who by charter dating back to 1600 and ‘how’s your father’ One lot was a University collage, the other was a City Livery Company. These folk would turn up at any time, which they did, sometimes the most awkward (for the school) times.

  17. To Wolfi, you story resonates with me. I could go on and on about the awful experiences as a child “of other religion” I had to suffer in a Catholic school. Perhaps the next story will give you a sense what I’m talking about.
    The school organized an outing on one Sunday (we still had school on Saturday) to visit Máriagyűd, Siklós and Harkány, places all south of Pécs. In Máriagyűd some miracle happened centuries ago and the Catholics were supposed to have mass there. In Siklós there is an old fort which we were supposed to visit and learn some history. Harkány had pools, both hot and cold.
    We arrived in Máriagyűd and we, children “of other religions” settled down to have something to eat. A nun came by and asked what we were doing: “We are kids of other religions and therefore we are not supposed to attend mass.” Answer: “If you undertook this trip you must attend mass.” And so we did! What else could we do, eleven-year olds? Not surpisingly we didn’t behave as we should have in the church. But that is what happens when powerful persons under their jurisdication force others who are powerless to do things against their will.
    I believe that my rebelliousness and my passionate desire for truth and fairness has something to do with my two years spent in this Catholic school where I was treated as a second-class citizen.

Comments are closed.