A Hungarian pope? Does Péter Erdő have a chance?

As I mentioned earlier, the Hungarian media is full of stories speculating about the possibility of Péter Erdő succeeding Benedict XVI.

Péter Erdő was appointed Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest in December 2002 and was also made a cardinal at the same time. At the time of his appointment he was auxiliary bishop of Székesfehérvár and was only 50 years old. He has a doctorate in theology and canon law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. His biography mentions that he spent three years in Rome (1977-1980).

If people thought that the relatively young Erdő would bring some fresh air into the stale, ultra-conservative Hungarian Church they were mistaken. It is hard to tell whether Erdő tried and failed because of the overwhelming opposition he encountered,  whether he is a weak administrator, or whether he is basically a conservative man. From some of his pronouncements we can see that he is no friend of sudden change: “we react to all important problems in our own rhythm” and this rhythm seems to be very slow. He also claims that “the Church must not get involved with problems of the given moment.”

Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest

Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest

Since 2003 not much has changed in the Hungarian Catholic Church. Unlike in Western Europe where more and more lay people are involved in church affairs, the case in Hungary is different. Also the church’s transparency, especially when it comes to financial matters, leaves a lot to be desired. The greatest financial scandal occurred in Pécs where the bishop, Mihály Mayer, was eventually forced to resign because of embezzlement, blackmail, and even homosexual practices. The church hierarchy was reluctant to investigate the affair and even Erdő would have liked to have kept the affair within the church, but eventually the Hungarian prosecutor’s office took over the case. It was Pope Benedict who in the end removed Mayer.

One of Erdő’s outspoken critics is Attila Jakab, a young theologian and church historian. He wrote an article a couple of days ago that appeared on the website of the Intézet a Demokratikus Alternativáért (IDEA; Institute for a Democratic Alternative) in which he outlined the reasons that Erdő is not fit to become pope.

Jakab claims that Erdő finds it hard to tolerate freedom of thought. I’m afraid Jakab is right. I remember an interview with him where he didn’t hide his disdain for man’s right to form his own opinions. He is also far too sensitive to criticism; according to an older report on him by an agent of the Hungarian secret service, he can be “hysterical.” He finds it important to cooperate with the current ruling political elite. His relationship with Ferenc Gyurcsány was not as good as it is today because Gyurcsány apparently asked him in 2006 to refrain from interfering with the elections. Normally the Catholic Church wages a veritable election campaign, naturally supporting the right-wing parties.

In addition, Jakab calls attention to Erdő’s lack of leadership qualities. Here he calls attention to the financial scandals and pedophilia that went on in Pécs for years. The other case involved the Bishopric of Győr, a case that also ended up in court. Erdő, according to Jakab, refuses to put an end to the Christian Democratic Party’s running amok and does practically nothing about the fusion of Christian and pagan elements in the current “national-Christian” regime. Indeed, I can recall only one or two occasions when he expressed his disapproval of the Hungarian right’s syncretic religious practices. In case you don’t know what Jakab has in mind, it is worth recalling Viktor Orbán’s famous “Turul” in which we were all born.

Jakab also points out that Erdő knows that the introduction of religious instruction in all schools poses insurmountable problems for the Church. There are simply not enough people trained to fill the thousands of positions its introduction requires. But in Erdő’s defense, it is possible, given the Orbán government’s practices, that the churches were not even consulted before the decision was made. I recall one time that Erdő expressed his dismay over the decision.

Finally, those who oppose the Orbán government and its practices shouldn’t keep fingers crossed for Péter Erdő. Admittedly, Hungarian pride would swell if for the first time there was a Hungarian pope in the Vatican. But surely, the Orbán government would take advantage of Erdő’s presence in Rome. Viktor Orbán would try to brand Erdő’s election as his own victory. Moreover, in addition to the current grave problems of the Vatican, a Hungarian pope would also be stranded with the mess Viktor Orbán has created both inside and outside the country. The new pope surely wouldn’t want to carry that extra burden.

The last and perhaps the greatest obstacle standing in Erdő’s way to the papacy: the Hungarian Catholic Church’s still uncovered activities during the Kádár regime tying practically all prelates to the Hungarian secret service. Documents show that several presidents of the Hungarian Papal Institute in Rome were agents who reported to the Ministry of the Interior. Erdő spent three years there and in 1987 was the president of the institution. Both his predecessors and his successors worked for the Hungarian secret service. Nothing has surfaced yet about Erdő, but it might once all the documents of the Ministry of Interior are available. The Orbán government has no intention of doing anything about uncovering agents despite Fidesz’s fierce anti-communism. If and when Fidesz loses the elections, however, the opposition forces swear that the secret archives will be opened.

Anyone who’s interested in the connection between the secret service and the Papal Institute should read a four-part series by Tamás Majsai that appeared between December 2007 and April 2008 in Beszélő.

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46 comments

  1. I think the next pope will be an Italian. Ratzinger just didn’t notice how many networks there are in the Vatican and beyond – which he didn’t control.

    The Italian pope will be elected on an ad interim consensus. Then I expect some development back to the second “consilium”, after which we might see an African or South-American pope – perhaps.

    We shouldn’t forget that the last two popes set back the development of the church for more than a generation.

  2. Minusio: “Then I expect some development back to the second “consilium”, after which we might see an African or South-American pope – perhaps.”

    While this might sound so forward moving and multicultural to you, keep in mind that religious figures from those regions tend to be the most backwards ultraconservative amongst all. Don’t forget that at certain places in Africa, homosexuality is still punishable by death (supported by the local church) for example. Do you wanna see an African pope like this:

    I guess I don’t have to go into the details of the prospect of an American pope from the bible belt either.

    “Jakab claims that Erdő finds it hard to tolerate freedom of thought. ”

    Just as the catholic church itself. I find it a little arrogant when us, non-religious people voice our expectation towards what the church should do to please us, but I can’t say I wouldn’t like to see a more modern version of the church either.

  3. @ Jano. Of course, I agree with you. Woytila and Ratzinger are both a case in point. The cardinals in the non-European countries seem to be no better and rather (or overly) conservative. So prospects are grim.

    But somehow, the Roman-catholic church is a power. So it does matter.

    I am a non-believer. So according to me, they can elect Grillo or Berlusconi or Dubbya.

    Did you know that to become Pope, theoretically speaking, you don’t have to be anything (neither catholic, nor bishop, cardinal or even male)? How about Woody Allen or Angela Jolie?

    If I hurt catholic feelings, please accept my apologies. But I bet that most of you don’t know what ‘catholic’ really means (as most of you had no Greek in school) and that it is part of the protestant “Confession of Faith” as well!

  4. According to Imre Kozma, the leader of Hungarian Knights of Malta, we will not have an African pope because “black people are not ready for the white people’s problems”.

    According to Eddie Izzard, Catholics are following the teachings of Cathol.

    I think I just sinned. I’ll go and have two Bloody Marys …

  5. “the Church must not get involved with problems of the given moment.”

    Wise words. If Jesus had only followed that line, he’d have lived long enough to be Pope.

  6. Incidentally, does it worry anyone that we are Pope-less for several days? God has no representative on Earth!

    If the Pope is so important, how come we are expected to get by without one for a week or more? We should demand a stand-in Pope or a Papal Regent – anything could happen in the next few days and we wouldn’t know what to do, or think, about it. It could be chaos!

  7. @Paul
    “God has no representative on Earth!”

    There are 7 billion representatives, or rather zillions of representatives, say 10^16
    (a single human being provides for about 100 trillion bacteria)

    The number of gods can also be anything, from infinity to three, to two, to one, to zero.

  8. The Church’s reticence in facing the religious education in Hungarian schools is perfectly understandable. Just imagine the shock, when all those pederasts are offered an unlimited supply of “raw materials” for their pastime, delivered to their hands without even asking.

    But let’s treat the issue in the good, sporting spirit it deserves! The sports betting website that offers odds to the next pope, (http://www.paddypower.com/bet/current-affairs/pope-betting?ev_oc_grp_ids=1178744) is rating him at 14:1. The highest odds are on a Ghanian cardinal at 3:1 and the world’s most famous and ardent atheist, Prof. Richard Dawkins is at 666:1. (This is undoubtedly attributable to this number’s satanic connotations.) But this is still better than the singer Bono’s chances at 1000:1.
    Any takers?

  9. I like the idea of Angelina Jolie as Pope, although Jennifer Lawrence wouldbe even better, bringing a refreshing irreverence to the job.

  10. BTW, how on earth can a poor comenter include a picture in these comments, like I would like if I could, to include the chart of odds. Which by the way has changed already: the Ghanaian card is 4:1 now, but card Erdo in not even on the page. He is an also-run, and as such, he may get elected after all.

  11. Minusio: “Did you know that to become Pope, theoretically speaking, you don’t have to be anything (neither catholic, nor bishop, cardinal or even male)? How about Woody Allen or Angela Jolie?”

    As a matter of fact I have!

    http://rome.it.craigslist.it/ofc/3611126794.html

    Wanna apply?

    Of course I agree with you, the catholic church is pretty iconic and influential in our culture regardless if we actually associate with them or not. I feel pretty passionate for example about the contraception issue and I was furious with Benedict when preached against condoms in Africa so it does matter to me who gets to be elected.

    As much as I have read about this, Erdő is considered pretty “liberal” in church circles (of course for us he’s a conservative and there is nothing wrong with being one). He always strongly condemned atrocities against the Jews (earning the mock name Erdő rabbi on kuruc…), and as far as I heard Orbán, is pretty disappointed with him for not fully standing by the government. We’d definitely not get along as friends (and by definition, you’re probably not going to find too many liberal cardinals), but he doesn’t seem obviously unacceptable to me.

  12. Jano, it’s true: Jobbik supporters and general kuruc-info readers don’t like Erdö because of his condemning antisemitism, and also because he apparently has some jewish ancestors.

  13. @ Yul. Fortunately, there are no Jobbik cardinals – yet. And Jesus was a Jew. But I think I remember that there was once an attempt to make him a Hungarian Catholic. I can’t remember where I read that.

  14. In Nazi times there even appeared books that claimed Jesus was the son of a Germanic Roman soldier …

    One of my wife’s sons studied at the Catholic university and had Erdö as a teacher – he doesn’t seem to be a hardliner, that’s why he has no chance to become pope!

    @Ambator: Thanks for that remark about Dawkins and “666”. It’s a funny coincidence:

    Today my wife will be cooking for an old friend of ours, a biologist who introduced me to Dawkins (gave me “The God Delusion” as a birthday present) – I absolutely have to tell him this joke!

    BTW if you google “666 rock music” you’ll find this crazy site: http://www.av1611.org/666/rock_666.html

    If you believe them, all rock musicians are satan worshippers – funny as hell (sorry for the pun)

  15. Jano :I find it a little arrogant when us, non-religious people voice our expectation towards what the church should do to please us, but I can’t say I wouldn’t like to see a more modern version of the church either.

    I agree with most of your post, except what I quoted. If what you are saying is true, the same should apply the internal business of each countries. We should not fight against child labour, for women rights, for democracy, and so forth. Especially in today’s world each “organization” have a major effect on the humanity. Church is no exception, and we do have the right to expect some control over their dealings (abuse scandals, financial dealings, their involvement with politics, and schools). Not expecting better from churches would be simple arrogant.

  16. Hat remelem, az nagyon jo volna! Maybe.
    I hope it will be a good Hungarian boy. Maybe he will be decent and spread all that disgusting wealth around a bit, shed some transparency on the bank accounts, bring about a change to normal human sexual attitudes among his underlings (so they don’t get all messed up), distribute some condoms to poor buggers who have nothing else to do in the jungles but overpopulate (and starve), disallow the flock bowing down to man-made images (and remove the idols from churches), stop spreading around doom and gloom of losing your soul and hell fire for all who don’t subscribe to his forced religion (in the name of an actually forgiving and loving God!), publicly apologize for all the killing and horrible acts of his church’s “conversion” tactics throughout history……. One could go on and on……
    For the record: I am a deist and the existence of a great God has been a convincing and definite constant throughout my life, for which I give thanks every day!

  17. Talking about religion. In the name of the ever rich and generous Hungarian government, Janos Lazar announced that that Hungarian taxpayers will take over the money owed to the banks by certain churches. Of course all this is the previous government’s fault. I guess the Hungarian government with this statement admits that the head of the various churches are idiots, who cannot think for themselves.

  18. Some1 :

    Talking about religion. In the name of the ever rich and generous Hungarian government, Janos Lazar announced that that Hungarian taxpayers will take over the money owed to the banks by certain churches. Of course all this is the previous government’s fault. I guess the Hungarian government with this statement admits that the head of the various churches are idiots, who cannot think for themselves.

    I’m glad that you mentioned this. I just read it and I was appalled.

  19. When I grew up in the fifties in Budapest, being raised by my grandmother, the Cath church helped us out a lot financially. We actually used the church as a lending institution. (We went to church and bowed down in front of the many man made images every Sunday of course and we were expected to put X amount of money into the slot at the foot of the particular idol fitting the particular sin we confessed, LOL)
    I think the church back then, or at least the individual churches had some good heart though. A lot was going on, poverty, wars, revolution, etc…. perhaps as things settled down they became more at ease with greed.

  20. Eva S. Balogh :

    Some1 :
    Talking about religion. In the name of the ever rich and generous Hungarian government, Janos Lazar announced that that Hungarian taxpayers will take over the money owed to the banks by certain churches. Of course all this is the previous government’s fault. I guess the Hungarian government with this statement admits that the head of the various churches are idiots, who cannot think for themselves.

    I’m glad that you mentioned this. I just read it and I was appalled.

    Which churches? And how exactly is it the fault of the previous government?!

  21. OT but interesting (perhaps?), I heard that Péter Erdő and Péter Eszterházy went to high school together. Erdő originally wanted to be a writer, but when he saw how well Eszterházy wrote Erdő realised he was brilliant and could never compare to him, so he went into the Church instead.

    Well I have no way of verifying any of that, but I heard it directly from someone who knows one of the two quite well.

  22. Some1 :
    Church is no exception, and we do have the right to expect some control over their dealings (abuse scandals, financial dealings, their involvement with politics, and schools). Not expecting better from churches would be simple arrogant.

    Perhaps the “control” over their dealings is not best way to word it. The state should not control churches in any ways. The people should expect the churches to abide by the laws like everybody else. This is obvious when they should turn over known pedofiles to the authorities instead of hiding them. Or pay taxes and do their finances according to the tax laws with the same consequences (why did the pope resign?).

    In case of schools they have no right to impose their religious views on anybody. This is where it gets slippery. Because even if they claim they will separate the “moral” education for non-religious children they still pre-filter the teachers according their views (remember the “married with children, non-smoker criteria).

    Regarding politics I think there is nothing we can do in term of having their own opinion and endorsing parties they like. But receiving disproportionate financing from governments should be against the law. IMHO receiving ANY tax payer financing for simply being a church should be against the law (as opposed to getting financial aid for running a hospital or a school or any other public service).

  23. Some1: Mutt above quite well summarized what I wanted to write. It’s the state’s job to be secular not the church’s. Electing a leader is an internal issue, breaking the law is not.

  24. OK, somebody, who dosent know Attila Jakab personally could belive, that he speaks the truth. Unfortunatly, Attila Jakab is an apostate former priest from Transylvania, who has a great mind for scolarly work, but even a greater ego, and he uses his ego to oppose everybody, I mean, really, literally everybody, who lives in this world (he dosent even has a job because of his attitude: every time, when somebody gives him a place in a hungarian university, he starts to write open letters about his current boss in every possible forum — once for example I recieved on christmass day (!!!!) an e-mail starting with the worlds: “fuck you idiots, who telled my boss, that I written a destructive critic about him in the open blog”– I didnt even knew, who he was before that). Once I have seen him on a conference about religious studies: he started to complain, why is it, that every religion from Hungary is present in the discussion, just the scientologist where banned, in the next moment 3 prominent hungarian scientologist church leaders stand up, saying: but we are here, so we dont neeed Attila Jakab’s paranoid defence of our opinion. (So even the scientologists didn’t sympatitased with him.) This article, which he written about Erdő is the same, everybody knows, that Erdő has his own opinion for some topics, and he even acts according to this: he didn’t likes Orban Viktor too much, he generally thinks, that the church should not interfere with worldly politics. If you check Hungarian politics, then you could realise, that almost all members of the liberal green party LMP are professors of the Pázmány Péter Catholic University, which is Erdős personal domain. But he also makes common public apperance with any left wing socialist politicians, if they choose christian values. One of Erdő’s most important achievment was to declare christian saviors of the jewish population during world war 2 as national beatified personas respected by all catholics. (see for example Salkaházy Sára: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A1ra_Salkah%C3%A1zi) He even opposed some right wing politicians, if he feeled, that they crossed the line, which a christian should not cross, but of course mostly not in public (but even sometimes in public too, see for example the armenian affair), just behind closed doors, as decorum should leave it. So he is definetly not a political cannon-fodder, but an autonom ruler of a church, which has universal human values.

    .

  25. Jano :
    Some1: Mutt above quite well summarized what I wanted to write. It’s the state’s job to be secular not the church’s. Electing a leader is an internal issue, breaking the law is not.

    Electing leaders that will guide millions of people who have questionable past is not an internal affair. The Pope for that matter does not only guide the small “country”of the Vatican but inadvertently gets involved in the affairs of many countries. Pope Pius XII.If the religious leaders would not get involved in State affairs, if churches would pay taxes I would say you are right, but until then…. Take a look on Hungary too. I rest my case!

  26. What kind of mess did Orban leave????? Whoever wrote this article: you should have lived (and worked) in Hungary for the last 10 years….. How about the mess caused by the “socialists”? You are talking like a colonizer!!!!!! That is over,my friend. Every leader is responsible for the its nation. I guess if Obama would make the same “kind of mess” for Americans, you would agree…..

    HUNGARY IS NOT AND WILL NOT BE A COLONY OF GLOBALIZATION.

  27. ALFONSO :

    WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW POPE FRANCIS?

    I haven’t been able to form an opinion yet. Although I liked his modesty and puritanism. On the other hand, I understand that he is very conservative while I think the Catholic Church needs basic and far-reaching reforms.

  28. What’s it all about, Alfie? Why are you yelling so loud? Relax, we can hear you, although so far you didn’t say anything intelligent.

    As to your question: The Catholics elected Benedict’s opponent, another conservative Pope. He is 76 years old, thereby assuring the Catholic’s version of “term limits”. He seems like a decent human being. We’ll see if he can deal with the multitude of complex issues facing the Church. I am not betting on his success, although I wish him the best.

  29. @ Sackhoes Contributor. Pope Francis appears to be a kind man. But I agree that his scope for reforming the Catholic church is probably very limited. Apart from caring for the poor, his views are very conservative. Also he has an issue: What did he do or not do during the years of the junta in Argentina?

  30. I certainly hope that this pope is bad news for Orban.

    Francis is a jesuit and a big time “socialist”. The Orban government’s ruthless approach to poverty in Hungary will not be liked by him that’s for sure.

    I’m also very curios about Jesuit ties. The Society of Jesus has it’s own leader.

  31. @ muttdamon. “How many divisions does the Pope have?” I think Stalin asked this. But Orbán might ask the same…

  32. muttdamon :
    I certainly hope that this pope is bad news for Orban.
    Francis is a jesuit and a big time “socialist”. The Orban government’s ruthless approach to poverty in Hungary will not be liked by him that’s for sure.
    I’m also very curios about Jesuit ties. The Society of Jesus has it’s own leader.

    Ferenc I that is a name for Viktor to get a sleepless night. But for VO it could be worse Ferenc Gy. I

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