Secular Hungary

Secular Hungary

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Three Hungarian Bishops

In December, Lutheran bishop Tamás Fabinyi was interviewed by the Hungarian newspaper Népszabadság. Mr Fabinyi argued for a better separation between the state and the churches. Before thinking of anything such as a secular state: according to him, this means that the state should give money and shut up, while the churches will tell the state what is right and wrong.

Meanwhile Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei, head of the Hungarian reformed church, talked about money. The faith activities of the churches are mainly but not exclusively funded via income tax: taxpayers may dedicate 1% of their income tax to one of the churches, and while only 26% of taxpayers do so, legislation ensure that the churches receive also the non-dedicated part of this 1% of all income tax (churches receive additional funds, but this 1% constitutes quite a big chunk). Mr Bölcskei deplores recent tax cuts (benefiting rich families with many children, while taxes for low-income taxpayers actually increased), which mean that the churches receive less money than they could with higher taxation, and asks for a more predictable funding system. I am convinced that most NGOs as well as many state-financed institutions such as universities, cultural institutions, public schools and the whole health system will agree with Mr Bölcskei: unlike the churches, they indeed have suffered serious cuts in funding. Funding is indeed unpredictable, but in the case of churches, the unexpected changes always had a positive

Our third bishop is László Tőkés, previously bishop of the reformed church of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania and member of the European Parliament for Romania, who at the age of 62 is having another kid. This, of course, would be his private affair, except that his new wife happened to be 8 months pregnant at their wedding, which, assuming that Mr Tőkés is the father of the child, means that his lifestyle is not quite compatible with the teaching of his own church which forbids sex outside marriage.


Less school, more religion

There’s been a wave of state schools being handed over to churches lately, meaning that many pupils (and their parents) will have to decide whether they are willing to abide by the rules of some church or look for a new school. Read more of this post

Morals at the protestant university

Hungary has about 80 universities and colleges. Many of them are of course minor province institutions, including a lot of theological schools caring to the needs of one particular denomination for pastors  (needless to say that they receive their funds from the Hungarian state, too). Not so Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church (KRE), which, together with Pázmány Péter Catholic University is an institution with scientific ambitions, and has not only a theologial faculty, but also one for humanities and one for law. Until now, it also had three PhD schools. One of them, the law school, has now been closed down by the Accreditation Committee for continuos non-compliance with basic academic standards. One of these says that in order to run a PhD school, an institution needs to have a certain number of specialists in the field who already have students awarded a PhD degree, and not only the now closed down PhD school, but also the PhD school in literary history is unable to meet this criterion.
However, according to the weekly HVG, the latter seems to have also committed fraud.
Probably in order to produce the necessary amount of PhD graduates, they have awarded three degrees in Spring 2009 which had to be revoked by the Accreditation Committee. In order to provide one of the professors, András Szabó, with a PhD graduate, they transferred the supervision of one aspirant to him, just three weeks before he had to defend this dissertation (the opponent was the wife of Szabó, who also teaches at the univesity, and also the direct boss of the PhD applicant was involved in the process – she, by the way, is the daugther-in-law of a well-known professor on the PhD-board of the Accreditaion Committee). The original supervisor wasn’t informed about the transfer of her student, and when she protested, she was dismissed from the school. Anyway, the school got a year to solve their problems, which they were apparently unable to do–accroding to the weekly HVG, if the Committee does keep to its standards, they will have to close down the school, leaving KRE with one PhD school only.
The university is practically the warplace of the reformed church’s internal conflicts. The university was founded in 1993 by the bishop Loránt Hegedűs who at the time was head of the reformed church of Hungary, but has been removed from his post. As the university was formally maintained by his diocese but supervised by the head of the church, conflicts were programmed. There were also financial irregularities in 2008. The then rector left, and at the time, it also turned out that he had worked for the communist secret service before 1989. Another ex-rector, Sándor Tenke is being accused of forgeing official documents. The present one is an in-law of the Hegedűs clan, which is well konwn for its activities in the far right scene, with a Mrs Loránt Hegedűs (I understand she’s the sister of the rector) being MP for the very right wing party Jobbik.

Teachers and students are also fighting online. If you speak Hungarin and want to read a rather disgustion version (probably partly of questionable reliability) of the deeds of the univesity officials (extending the above mentioned charges, including ad hominem attacks, accusations that the university does not require enough religious studies for non-theology students, and claiming that funds have been redirected to the far right wing party Jobbik), you can find their blog here.

A truly ecumenic prime minister

Though the prime minister of Hungary, Mr Viktor Orbán is a calvinist, catholic spectacles seem to meet his taste much more than protestant puritanism (true, in his youth, around the fall of communism in 1989, he had adpoted a more Voltraian approach to the churches, but he, together with his party, switched to their present worldview in the mid 90s). He participates in the yearly procession of the catholic church  on National Day (20th of August) in Budapest carrying around a piece of a dead body, the alleged right hand of king Stephen I., the christianiser of Hungary and founder of the State.
Now, he’s spent a couple of days in Castelgandolfo, the summer residence of the pope, and participated in the foundation of a network of christian legislators with the aim to provide a platform for members of palriaments and clerics to discuss moral values.

The bishop’s wife files for divorce

Basically, this is of course a private issue, were it not for her husband, László Tőkés. Tőkés is a well known bishop of the reformed church, and a member of the European Parliament for Romania (he is a member of the Hungarian minority in Transsylvania), and he played an important role in the Romanian revolution in 1989. He is also well known for promoting “traditional family values” — which he seems not to apply to himself, however, if we believe Edit Joó Tőkés, who allegedly has also written a letter to the head of the European Parliament complaining about the lifestyle of her husband, who did not handle discreetly his love affairs in Brussels and Strasbourg. Mrs Tőkés complained that her husband communicated with her and their three children through formal letters, and also required her to keep a record of any money spent – backing her accounts with receipts even for the smallest items. According to Romanian newspapers there was a scandal already in 1999, when Mrs Tőkés caught her husband having sex with his lover on his bishop’s office desk.

In June 2008, Mr Tőkés attacked a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, Mrs Madga Kosáné Kovács in her absence, because a few weeks earlier she informed the parliament about church attempts to interfere in forthcoming legislation extending some rights to gay couples and dared to call the head of the European Commission, Mr Barroso to stand up for the principle of secular state and for European values. Mr Tőkés called Mrs Kosáné Kovács a postcommunist, stated that the true European values are protestant (he used the word ‘keresztyén’ referring to protestant christianism) and suggested the parliament to invite pope Benedict XVI. (It’s not clear if Mr Tőkés knows that Benedict XVI. does not consider his church a true one.)

The Kósáné-Tőkés dispute: Mrs Kósáné Kovács: and Mr Tőkés: and
As Mrs Kósáné Kovács was absent, her colleague replied, stating that Mr Tőkés’s attack was inappropriate and disgusting:

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