06 June 2023, The Tablet

Hungarian bishop challenges ‘subservient’ Church

“Nobody likes making statements critical of the government – but it's not normal to keep silent all the time.”

Hungarian bishop challenges ‘subservient’ Church

Bishop Miklos Beer said that fellow bishops agreed with him but were reluctant to speak in public forums.
Wikimedia Commons

A well-known Hungarian bishop has accused the country's Catholic Church of excessive subservience to the right-wing government of Viktor Orbán, and warned against a constant emphasis on the country's Christian heritage.

“Political leaders can promote Christian values, but they should never do so in a didactic manner, as is often the case with politicians,” the retired Bishop Miklos Beer of Vac told Hungary's Magyar Hang weekly.

“They tend to believe they see and act correctly, and I don't wish to doubt their good intentions. But the Church's task should be to help the politicians see things more clearly, and warn them if they don't act according to Christian values.”

The 80-year-old bishop said members of the Orbán government had sought close ties with the Pope when he visited Hungary, a NATO and European Union member-state, on 5-7 May, but had also “fed on ignorance” and shown “signs of Pharisaism” in constantly evoking Christian values in their decisions.

He added that Catholic leaders should also “overcome taboos” and promote a more “sustained and public debate” on issues currently preoccupying the Church in other countries, such as sexual abuse and clerical celibacy.

Although other bishops frequently agreed privately on the need for a more open, critical stance, Bishop Beer said, they never spoke up “at larger, public forums”.  

“Nobody likes making statements critical of the government – but it's not normal to keep silent all the time,” he told Magyar Hang.

“I am convinced it would be good not only for the Church but also for the political leadership, if Church leaders honestly pointed out its mistakes, instead of just constantly showing loyalty.”

Hungary's Catholic Church, traditionally making up 70 percent of the population of 10 million, has faced accusations of subservience to the controversial government of Orbán, who has headed the far-right Fidesz party since 1993, serving as premier for 17 years and attracting bitter criticism for his dictatorial style and close ties with Russia.

In an April 2022 interview with Magyar Hang, Bishop Beer said he hoped the war in Ukraine would make the Church “wake up” to the dangers of excessive submissiveness.

“Although we were happy to break the grip of the communist dictatorship, our Church wasn't prepared for the new situation and the opportunities it created,” said the bishop, who headed the central Vac diocese from 2003 until 2019.

“We still don't know how we should behave in a democratic system, and have inadvertently slipped into the unfortunate situation of receiving and expecting many things from the state.”

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