According to 1949 census data, 70 percent of the Hungarian population, or about 6.5 million people, were Catholic. Therefore, the Catholic Church had significant social, public and political influence as well as important material resource.  Their education, social, cultural and church institutions covered the entire country. Consequently, the Catholic Church played a major role in the cultivation and observation of national culture and traditions. 

On 7 October 1945, the Holy See placed a charismatic pontiff at the head of the Hungarian Catholic church, József Mindszenty, who said no to both terror and dictatorship.  As the Bishop of Veszprém, he was imprisoned first by the Arrowcross and later by the Communists in 1949. Under the leadership of Archbishop Mindszenty, the Catholic Church roused hundreds of followers to protect church institutions.  Above all, the church protected Catholic schools and protested the compulsory termination of religious education. The Communist ideological performers incited extreme hate against Cardinal Mindszenty and the entire Church. 

Police operations were carried out against church institutions and schools and harassment and intimidation followed. The state took 30 high school students by force from Gyöngyös with their Franciscan teacher, Father Szaléz Kis. They were charged for concealing weapons and accused of being a revolutionary organization. Father Kis, 17 year old Ottó Kizmán and László Bodnár as well as 16 year old Sándor Kiss were convicted and executed in early September 1946. Their classmates were sentenced to prison and forced labor.

In January 1948, Rákosi gave the order that ˝by the end of the year we must end the Church rebellion.˝ The Communists organized a national campaign to nationalize Church-run schools. In Pócspetri, an accidentally discharged rifle led to a tragedy (3 June 1948), when it became a pretext for the Communists to begin a military campaign against the Catholic clergy, the believers within the Hungarian peasantry, and the entire village. János Kádár, Gábor Péter, a representative from the Party newspaper, ˝Free People˝ and Miklós Vásárhelyi went to the site which had been completely occupied by the ÁVO.

The Communists assaulted almost every resident of the village. The entire country resounded with the clerical reaction murdered a policeman.

On 20 June 1948, 6,500 Church-run schools were nationalized. Not long afterwards, the Communists expelled the churches from the health and social care sectors.  With the revoking of operational permits of these now ˝useless˝ religious orders, and the brutal treatment of the monks and nuns, they were able to exercise pressure on the still free leaders of the church. On 26 December 1948, the Communists already arrested and then sentenced to life imprisonment József Mindszenty, Archbishop of Esztergom and head of the Hungarian Catholic Church.

Mindszenty´s trial was held from 3-8 February 1949 at the Budapest Court of the People before Vilmos Olti´s council. The prosecutor was Gyula Alapy. Throughout the entire trial the public opinion was worked and manipulated. The regime tried to convince the frightened country with hundreds of unprecedented press campaigns, protests and demonstrations of Mindszenty´s ˝crimes˝ or in their language: the harmful ˝black reaction˝ and fury against the people.

The conviction of the Archbishop - and the Communists were well aware of this - was by no means enough to induce the total submission of the Roman Catholic Church.  They introduced the concept of ˝clerical reaction˝ as well. Everyone from the Pope to the smallest village parish became a reactionary. The prisons were filled with Catholic priests and the harassment of Catholics became an everyday occurrence. The Catholic Church resisted as long as it could.

Then in summer 1950, after three consecutive events, the church finally recoiled. The Catholic episcopacy came to the realization that the Communists´ cruelty and brutality knew no boundaries. They were shaken by the dismantlement of the religious orders, the deprived and persecuted nuns and monks, the fate of more than 10,000 of their brothers. They were conscious of their powerlessness and defenselessness. They had to fear that the ˝peace priest˝ movement that was forced on to the church by the Communists might lead to a schism inside the church. They were also hopeless because the strong and prestigious Polish episcopacy was coerced into an agreement with the socialist state in Poland. In the ˝agreement˝, the Catholic Bishops agreed to support the state order and government of the Hungarian People´s Republic. In return, the government promised to ensure religious and operational freedom of the church. The church received back eight church-run schools, where they could guarantee a Catholic education run by its own teaching order.

Less than a year later the signatory of the agreement, József Grősz, the Archbishop of Kalocsa, ended up in the crossfire.  József Révai, a member of the Communist party´s highest leadership body, elaborated the conception of a show trial, which was organized in the summer of 1951.  Archbishop Grősz was condemned to 15 years in prison, Ferenc Vezér, a monk from the Order of St. Paul, was sentenced to death,  Father Vendel Endrédy from Zirc received a 14 year prison term and his colleagues were also given serious prison sentences.  The ÁVH demanded that the bishops in Vác, Székesfehérvár and Szeged-Csanád appoint ˝peace priests˝ to important church positions. In July 1951, under the leadership of Archbishop Gyula Czapik of Eger, the free members of the episcopacy pledged their allegiance to the constitution of the Hungarian People´s Republic.

The Communists achieved their goals. The ÁVH terror broke down the resistance of the pontiffs and expanded the party´s scope of power to the church.

In 1956, Archbishop Mindszenty was freed and briefly resumed his leadership of the Church. However, on the day the Soviet attacked to put down the revolution, the Archbishop sought and was granted asylum in the US Embassy on Szabadság square, where he spent  the next 15 years captive. In 1971, under pressure from the Holy See and the Hungarian government, he emigrated.  He lived for another 4 years.  In 1991, his remains were returned to Hungary and buried in the Esztergom Basilica.  His beatification is under consideration by the Holy See. Pope John Paul II´s visit to Hungary in August 1991 symbolized the end of the 40 years of religious persecution.


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