The growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary

A few days ago I wrote about Ágoston Sámuel Mráz’s Nézőpont Intézet which, among other things,  tries to refute foreign newspapers’ descriptions of Hungary under Viktor Orbán. I mentioned that Nézőpont really takes offense if someone accuses the Hungarian government of trying to rehabilitate the Horthy regime. Well, I wonder what will happen if one of these antagonistic foreign journalists finds out what Sándor Lezsák, one of the deputy speakers of the House, had to say in Kenderes on the twentieth anniversary of the reburial of Miklós Horthy. Lezsák expressed his wish that a new research institute be established in Kenderes in which all the documentation relating to the Horthy family would be gathered and where young historians could become acquainted with the true history of the Horthy regime.

The rehabilitation of the Horthy regime goes on in practically all facets of life. For example, what’s going on in the field of education is also reminiscent of the pre-1945-46 period when the overwhelming majority of schools, especially gymnasiums, were in the hands of the churches. There were some Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran schools but not too many for the simple reason that these churches were not as rich as the Hungarian Catholic Church. It could easily happen that even in a larger provincial city children wanting to attend gymnasium had to enroll in the Catholic school because there was no public school in town. It seems that, if it depended on Rózsa Hoffmann, very soon a similar situation will occur in “Christian” Hungary.

Rózsa Hoffmann wasn’t always that devoted to the service of God and the Catholic Church, but sometime after the regime change she saw the light. Nowadays she acts as the instrument of the Hungarian Catholic Church, her goal being “to educate more and  more children in the Christian faith.” Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that the pious undersecretary for public education gave one of her many speeches marking the beginning of the new school year in the Basilica of Eger. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon enough all public school children were herded into one of the nearby Catholic churches for Veni Sancte as I was in grade one. Quite an experience for someone who hadn’t seen the inside of a church, any church, until then.

medieval school

Hoffmann is working assiduously to achieve this goal. She was rapturous over the growing number of parochial schools and expressed her hope that soon enough Christian education will begin in kindergarten. It’s never too early to start, and since all children from here on must attend kindergarten from the age of three we can be sure that if the government decides on universal Christian education it will be done. After all, the school system is totally centralized. In fact, terribly overcentralized. While she was at it, Hoffmann proudly announced that 52% of first graders opted for religion over ethics. It is now compulsory to take one or the other.

Many Hungarians are a great deal less enthusiastic about this transformation of secular public education, especially since Hoffmann’s missionary work is being paid for by the Hungarian taxpayers who are not necessarily Christians, or even believers. Because one cannot emphasize enough that this expansion of the parochial school system is financed exclusively by the central budget. At least in the Horthy regime the Catholic Church and parents footed the bill.  A somewhat radical critique of the Orbán government’s support of the Catholic Church can be found on one of the well known Hungarian blogs, Gépnarancs, whose name is a take-off on Fidesz’s official color, orange, and Lajos Simicska’s Közgép, considered to be the financial lynch pin of the Orbán system.

It is not only the Catholic Church that has been acquiring schools. Just lately I read about three schools that had been taken over by Kolping International, a lay organization whose members allegedly “participate in a socially just transformation of society.” The organization is named after a nineteenth-century German Catholic priest Adolph Kolping. Kolping International has over 400,000 members. One these new Kolping schools is an elementary school in Pócspetri. Another is opening in Szászberek where even the school’s new name gives it away. It is called Szászbereki Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola.  And naturally Rózsa Hoffmann was on hand in Csurgó where the Kolping Foundation will run a high school for 600 students. I guess it was time to open a Catholic school in Csurgó because there is already a Hungarian Reformed high school in town. Here Hoffmann lectured about the “morality” that had been cast aside. She promised that the new Hungarian school system will make sure that Hungarian children will return to the world of morality because “one must not live without values.” I agree in principle, but what kinds of values is Hoffmann talking about?

After Hoffmann visited several Catholic parochial schools it was time to go to a Hungarian Reformed school, the famous Debreceni Református Kollégium established in 1538. After all, Hoffmann’s boss, Zoltán Balog, is a Hungarian Reformed minister whose son happens to be a student there. Given the government’s political grip on education, it was not amusing to hear Balog ask the teachers not to allow politics to infiltrate the schools. It was also somewhat ironic to hear within the walls of a parochial school that “the government believes in public education.” But I guess if parochial schools are being funded by the public, they by default become public schools.

Rózsa Hoffmann spent most of her time defending the complete reorganization of the Hungarian school system. I was astonished to hear that this school year is the 1018th in the history of the nation. It seems that Ms. Hoffmann believes that the first “school” in Hungary was established in 995. A brave assumption. What I know is that it was in this year that Saint Adalbert of Prague arrived in Hungary to begin his missionary work. Otherwise, Hoffmann praised her own accomplishments, including personally appointing all new school principals. Such an arrangement “symbolizes greater respect for the principals than before.” Hoffmann also announced that it is “wise love (okos szeretet) [that] distinguishes [the Orbán government’s] pedagogical philosophy from others in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.” “Wise love” will be taught in religion and ethics classes.

Of course, I have no idea what “wise love” is. I trust it is not “tough love.” What these kids will learn in religion or ethics classes I have no idea. I just hope more than we learned during compulsory religion classes before the communist takeover. Then it was tough love all right. The minister who taught us didn’t spare the rod; boys who misbehaved were caned.

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16 comments

  1. So Hoffman says ‘to return to the world of morality’.

    Let’s see what she upholds as ‘morality’:
    –theft of pensions
    –slicing and dicing of the constitution
    –emasculating the courts
    –robbing 40,000 store-keepers of their income
    –outlawing and fining the homeless
    –creating a society of fear and intimidation

    Should not the present Pope be consulted to give his seal of approval?
    Come to think of it, I will give good odds that Viktor the O will not get within 100 yards of this Pope…

  2. And the best thing: once state/municipal schools transform into parochial schools via smart legal ways, they cannot be taken back by the state or the municipality.

    Politically it would be tantamount to a communist nationalization of the education like in the last 1940’s. Obviously MSZP politicians (who still harbor a deeply bad conscience for communism like Germans for the Holocaust and will do so forever) would sh*t into their pants just by imagining that the right wing will call them communists, so MSZP will never dare to be tough in education policy and set a more secular course. They desperately and pathetically want to be loved and accepted and not hated and not looked down upon (as they are still the hated “communists” in so many rural areas, nothing will ever change that), so MSZP will always accept any right-wing policy so as not to cause any perceived conflicts with the “people”.

    It is also impossible to decrease funding for parochial schools given the sacrosanct Vatican-treaty (of which an even tougher, that is even more advantageous to the Catholic and by operation of law other Christian churches, is under preparation, query as to Fidesz will sign it before 2014) which no MSZP politician will ever dare to terminate. The whole historical basis for the emergence of the parochial school movement was the Vatican-treaty signed by Gyula Horn, a former prime minister from MSZP (he was also a real old guard communist – but interestingly beloved by Fidesz, exactly because they could play Horn well, he did not realize he was taken advantage of), who intended to purchase the passivity of the Catholic Church. No such luck, Horn was extremely naive. The Catholic and Lutheran Churches (which by the non-discrimination policy also benefit from the Vatican treaty) are now the very backbones of the Fidesz’s national party/power network.

    And the influence of the Catholic and other religious schools, especially in the countryside will only grow. There is simply no upper limit to the capacity of the parochial schools, after all, they are all paid for the taxpayers (like kind of charter schools in the US) but are effectively privatized to a party-loyal organization.

    Check, mate.

    Péter Radó an education expert linked to Haza és Haladás (Bajnai’s Együtt) had an important statement in a recent interview. MSZP simply has no education policy whatsoever, they can only say “don’t worry everything (centralization, parochial schools etc.) will stay the same, only we will operate it better”. MSZP as usual has no idea what to do in education and generally has no vision and — as always — MSZP accepts the policies of the right, whereas when the right gets to power they always completely revoke any and all policies of the left so that policies everywhere on the longer run tend to conform to the right’s ideology (especially as Fidesz put his party commissioners into every concievable positions of power and made sure that they stay there for 9-13 years, whether in the energy administration or in the media).

    Együtt has a detailed education policy, but Együtt for whatever reason does not dare to talk about it.

    But as it was mentioned, there is no medicine against stupidity (and lack of vision).

  3. Sorry, besides the Catholics I meant the Calvinist church instead of the Lutheran (the latter has actually a rather small presence in Hungary as Orthodox Christians, but all do have schools all over Hungary of course) re the Fidesz party network backbone. Anyway.

    Tappanch, note that there are almost only half the kids compared to the late eighties, early nineties, so it’s not just the schools, but the percentage of all kids who attend these schools what counts.

    Having said that, if Christian schools did not have the deplorable tendency of participating in segregation efforts against the Roma, in smaller places they could be useful to provide a kind of additional social structure many poor communities lack. Unfortunately, parochial schools don’t want to get their hands “dirty” dealing with “problematic” kids/parents, if you know what I mean. Those will be the duty of the state-run schools of course, with respect to which literally everything gets decided from Budapest, no matter how small the issue or the school is, how far it is located, how far removed the culture is from that of district V (where the ministry is located). Any state school now literally cannot on its own buy chalk or sheets of paper or books and repair chairs, it does not have legal and financial authority to do so.

    When incompetence is coupled with power hungriness and the unbridled desire for total control that is what you get.

  4. It is likely that another 30,000 hectares of agricultural land went to Fidesz friends & family, there were not even formal tenders. The ministry has been refusing to give data about the fate of the state-owned land since April. The EU support has been landing in the lap of the secret beneficiaries.

    The tabloid “Blikk” will take the case to court, but Fidesz has changed the “sunshine” laws into “twilight” laws in the meantime.

    http://www.blikk.hu/blikk_aktualis/sumaktorveny-miatt-titkolozik-a-foldalapkezelo-2208883

  5. There have been plenty of candidates, Eva, but I think is the most disturbing entry I have read by you, yet …

    Those of us who have been following events over the years know that this dictation of spiritual beliefs has been such a creepily gradual unfolding that there is clearly a goal of ‘national unity’, even in this area of life and afterlife. I’ve already received criticism from neighbours for not attending catholic church. very soon, it seems, such criticism will have the official stamp of approval. All in the name of ‘Wise Love’.

    I still wonder, however, where the Turul fits into this new National Christian cosmology? After all, “Magyars are all born in the bird,” as the leader recently reminded us.

  6. Whatever religion the school have within a few years all of our kids can go to hospital for back problems. My wife is finished with the packing for tomorrow for my twin kids of 9 years old. It is heavy.

    They are in the third year and for each kid:
    One large backpack full with books. They are required to bring the books every day to and from school. They are not allowed to leave them at the school. I asked why, and apparently a new rule.
    One small backpack for gym stuff. Every day they need to have gym. So trouser, gym shoes, shirt, and water bottle.
    One sports bag with basket ball, basketball shoes, trousers, shirt, towel.
    One small lunch box, with snacks and sandwich.

    It is not that we have to bring it to school every day, because my wife and I assist, but during the day as there is not enough sport facility they need to walk for ten minutes to another school for sport and basket ball during the day.

    In their class are 25 kids and every “working” day this is going on.

  7. Ron :

    Whatever religion the school have within a few years all of our kids can go to hospital for back problems. My wife is finished with the packing for tomorrow for my twin kids of 9 years old. It is heavy.

    They are in the third year and for each kid:
    One large backpack full with books. They are required to bring the books every day to and from school. They are not allowed to leave them at the school. I asked why, and apparently a new rule.
    One small backpack for gym stuff. Every day they need to have gym. So trouser, gym shoes, shirt, and water bottle.
    One sports bag with basket ball, basketball shoes, trousers, shirt, towel.
    One small lunch box, with snacks and sandwich.

    It is not that we have to bring it to school every day, because my wife and I assist, but during the day as there is not enough sport facility they need to walk for ten minutes to another school for sport and basket ball during the day.

    In their class are 25 kids and every “working” day this is going on.

    Ron, there is no such thing as lockers? Such simple idea hasn’t occurred to these geniuses?

  8. Eva: Last year there was no problem leaving the books and some other stuff at school. This school year they are totally nuts.

    I mean nuts, new rules and regulations. My wife told me teachers were crying and totally stressed out, as they had problems with time tables. Specials courses for above average students need to be cancelled, as well as some sports activities, music lessons, etc.

  9. I’m sure if mobile phones posed any sort of real threat to petrol stations there would either have been some fires by now, or else they would be strictly banned.

    It’s the same nonsense you get on planes. If they really were a risk, do you think we’d be allowed to take them on board and they’d just rely on asking us to switch them off?! My wife always leaves hers on, and I’m sure she isn’t the only one, yet our plane never has any problems.

    More stupid, pointless, rules to add to the many hundreds of others…

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