Last year, during an interview with a Hungarian media outlet, the Israeli Ambassador to Hungary, Yacov Hadas-Handelsman, stated that Hungary was practically the only European country in which an observant Jew could walk about freely—“without being afraid of anything.” This echoed the words of the Chief Rabbi of the Hungarian Jewish Congregation, Slomo Koves, who asserted that Hungary was not only not an anti-Semitic country but that it was “probably the safest place at the moment in Europe to be Jewish.”
It was therefore peculiar for Pope Francis to use his extremely short September 12th visit to Hungary—it lasted seven hours—to issue a warning of “lurking” anti-Semitism in Europe. After celebrating Mass for the close of the International Eucharistic Congress, the Pontiff left Budapest for a three-day visit to the neighboring country of Slovakia. This was rather surprising, since it is in Slovakia—according to a recent article in The Times of Israel—where a survey conducted last year found that 51% of Slovaks believed “Jews have too much power and secretly control governments and institutions around the world.” This is the highest percentage of the ten countries surveyed in Europe.
It has become the accepted talk amongst European elites—and the media that supports their worldview, along with the current U.S. administration—that the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is not only anti-Semitic but authoritarian and undemocratic. The false charge of anti-Semitism is due to Orbán’s campaign against George Soros, of course, the Hungarian-born international financier and supporter of extreme progressivism, who just happens to be Jewish. Needless to say, Orbán’s battle with Soros has absolutely nothing to do with his Jewish ethnicity and everything to do with his advocacy of open borders, mass immigration, and massive financial support for Orbán’s political rivals.
The charges of authoritarianism and undemocratic behavior—hard to justify given the last election results which saw Orbán’s party, Fidesz, lose support from the capital city of Budapest—thus seem to be much more about Hungary’s unashamed celebration of its Christian heritage, and its aspiration to preserve that heritage.
For months before the short Papal visit, there had been speculation that the Pontiff would not even meet Orbán and would instead fly into Budapest, celebrate Mass, and leave. The decision not to remain in Hungary, but to instead immediately start a three-day Papal visit to Slovakia, was seen by many Hungarians as a deliberate snub, aimed at the Fidesz government—but indirectly insulting all Hungarians.
Despite attempts by diplomats and officials in both Hungary and the Vatican to counter that perception, there can be no doubt that Pope Francis has little enthusiasm for the policies of the present Hungarian government. Certainly, Pope Francis’ repeated statements regarding mass migration and open borders are in closer alignment with the views of Soros than with Orbán.
The apparent hostility of the Holy See towards the government of Hungary is striking when one considers the pro-family policies of Fidesz. According to Vatican insiders, there is no real support for those policies in the Vatican, despite the fact that marriage is being strengthened in Hungary with generous tax allowances and parenthood is being encouraged. The Hungarian constitution even explicitly supports the view—as taught by the Catholic Church—that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
Almost on cue, Pope Francis used his homily in Budapest to criticize, with very little subtlety, Orbán’s government for its strong border controls and refusal to accept the diktats of unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels, who seem committed to changing the demographics of the sovereign nation-state of Hungary. Francis chided Hungary to “extend its arms to everyone.” That statement ought to be examined critically. While all Catholics are normally bound to give filial obedience and respect towards the successor of St. Peter on matters of faith and morals, that does not extend to Papal pronouncements on politics, science and climate change, or national sovereignty.
It is precisely the “everyone” that Francis urges Hungary to open its borders to, without restriction, that worries Prime Minister Orbán and the majority of people in Hungary. Does the Pope include potentially millions of Afghan and African refugees as part of the “everyone?” Among the “everyone” who would actually come there could very well be Middle Eastern single men or even radical Islamists. It is hard to determine how wide Hungary’s “arms” should be extended.
The problem Pope Francis seems to have with Mr. Orbán and the Fidesz government is obvious from the current Vatican antipathy towards populism and nationalism. In a 2017 interview published in the Spanish newspaper El Pais, the Pope, on being asked about the emergence of populist leaders across Europe—with Viktor Orbán being the most well-known—responded that it was wrong to “defend ourselves with walls, and barbed-wire fences, from other peoples.” The Pope then went on to draw comparisons with the rise of Hitler.
Hungary had, of course, already by then erected a fence to stop the huge wave of economic refugees pouring into Hungary after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had welcomed “everyone” to come into Europe. Perhaps the most unpleasant response of the Vatican towards the policies of Orbán was expressed by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, following Orbán’s attendance at the National Conservative conference held in Rome in early February 2020. Parolin described nationalism as “fundamentally infantile.”
It is unusual, to say the least, for the second most powerful man in the Vatican to use language like that. It must reflect the view of the current leadership of the Church. But the fact of the matter remains that love of one’s nation is not a sin. (In fact, it has traditionally been counted among the virtues.) Nor is the desire to preserve a nation’s people, culture, and heritage. It is not “infantile” to defend the nation-state and regulate who enters its sovereign territory. It is only those among the globalist elite who see those duties as harmful.
Photo: Courtesy of Imoti95, licensed under CCA-Sa 4.0 International.
It was therefore a masterful moment of Chutzpah for Orbán to give the Pope, upon his arrival, a bound copy of a letter from Hungarian King Bela IV sent to Francis’ predecessor, Innocent IV, in 1243. At the time, Hungary had just suffered a terrible invasion by the Mongols (from 1241 to 1242) which had devastated the country and killed a quarter of its population. The letter of King Bela—known as the “second founder” of Hungary after St. Stephen—included a description of how Hungary would fortify its borders in anticipation of a second Mongol invasion, and requested Pope Innocent’s support for the project.
Viktor Orbán reported on his Facebook page that, after briefly meeting Pope Francis, he had similarly asked him “not to let Christian Hungary perish.” It is not known whether Orbán’s gift was regarded as “infantile,” nor what the Vatican does with unwanted medieval documents.
Fr. Benedict Kiely is the founder of Nasarean.org, a charity helping persecuted Christians.