Famous young priest considers quitting as Orbánism captures Catholic Church in Hungary
Despite being a well-known priest, András Hodász (40) is banned from Hungarian church media. He believes that the generous amounts of subsidies by the Orbán government have a harmful effect on the moral stature of the church. In an interview with Válasz Online on Good Friday he gave an account of a request made by a Church superior: keep silent, or subsidies can be terminated. Apparently, the formation of a Hungarian state church is already underway. Meanwhile, the young priest is considering to quit his profession.
Az interjú eredetileg magyarul jelent meg, itt olvasható.
We meet for the interview at a milk bar in downtown Budapest. Hodász gets off his bike, arriving not from his church, but straight from his psychologist. A year and a half ago he decided he would try to comprehend his own underlying motivations behind his choice of career. Every now and then he took the chance to tell the public about his struggles. For example he spoke about this topic in one of the most distinguished political talk-shows in Hungary called Partizán, on YouTube. Frequent appearances in the media – especially independent Hungarian news media – earned him a nationwide fame. The priest also had a private YouTube channel which he decided to close down in March after being targeted by a series of assaults from outlets loyal to the governing party. ”I was attacked for an article in which I expressed my doubts that the biggest threats to the well-being of Hungarian children are posed by an alleged gay lobby and so-called gender change treatments. Instead, I mentioned depression and addictions, some truly existing and grave challenges which should be tackled.”
Undoubtedly, his remarks had political undertones: besides the general elections, a referendum was held on the same day, the 3rd of April, initiated by the government. Hungarian people were asked to decide on the legal authorization of gender change treatments for underage children. The government launched a campaign in favour of an emphatic ”no” by pushing the ”gender issue” – claiming that they would thus protect Hungarian children from the schemes of the gender lobby. Eventually, the referendum had no legally binding results.
Interestingly enough, the comments made by Father Hodász are remarkable also because a mere five years ago he was a staunch supporter of identity politics, citing the Bible when condemning homosexuality. What has happened since then?
”You are right, I had a long way to go, but let me say that I am fairly proud of that. I realized that we were tilting at windmills. We were fighting the gay lobby, which might be dangerous in Canada and it also might appear in Hungary one day and then the gates should be closed in due time, but in the meantime we ignored burning social issues. Issues that are here with us at the present moment, in our everyday lives.”
However, other changes have also happened.
”As a consequence of being a vocal participant in this debate for years, I had the chance to enter discussions with numerous gay people. I was in fact stunned realizing that I had failed on an something way more important: empathy.”
Gay people – as he puts it – are not a cohort, with its members forming an alliance to exterminate ”our Christian values”. They are human beings with their own individual characteristics and feelings. And they are not very different from us inasmuch as they wish for love and acceptance, and also want to feel at home in their own country. Because Hungary is also their homeland.
”For a long time I was obsessed with repeating loudly the reiterated standpoint of the Church, particularly preaching about sin. However, the Church also teaches that we must show love and understanding to our fellow human beings who are homosexual! Thus there was no need to be conflicted in my faith: I simply became aware that this is the more essential part of the canon. The more emphatic part. Yet, I needed personal impressions and honest talk to arrive at this conclusion.”
The approach taken up by Father Hodász is quite an exceptional one among Hungarian Catholic clergymen. Beyond that, it is also noteworthy that he refused to sign up as a supporter of the governing party, Fidesz, led by Viktor Orbán. In response to our question, he acknowledges that there is no written code of conduct which allows priests to take part in campaign activities.
The only guidance is a non-verbal, customary routine which suggests that ”priests should not take part in political campaigns, or, if we still do, we should support Fidesz”.
It indeed led to an outcry on the ”Christian-nationalist political side” that during the campaign period in the run-up to the general elections on 3rd of April, which resulted in an overwhelming victory for Fidesz, Hodász was pictured in a joint photo with the opposition’s candidate for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay. There was no similar uproar when fellow priests appeared on brochures issued by Fidesz, promoting election candidates of the governing party. Nonetheless, the priests campaigning for Fidesz – even turning Church sermons to campaign events – have a sufficiently strong argument: never before has the Church received more subsidies from the state than during the Orban era.
”Indeed, this is the crux of the problem. I am confronted with this issue every time I have a debate with someone on the relationship between Christianity and politics. After all, we get a lot of money! Well, what kind of morality is that? What Gospel? Where is it written in the Bible that stolen wealth is considered stolen only until we receive our own part from it?” – Hodász is asking. He believes the Church is in no need of politics, or the money provided by politics. ”If churches crumble, we will gather in houses. That is how it began, anyway.”
In the run-up to the general elections, priests received a lump sum of HUF 1 million (approximately EUR 2.700) as a gift from the government;
this amount is four times the starting salary of a newly graduated teacher in Hungary. Moreover, they will also receive a monthly pay from the Hungarian state after the elections – an amount comparable to a teacher’s salary. Nonetheless priests are not even public employees (as opposed to teachers).
”Not all churchgoers agree with this, though.” In a survey carried out by the online Christian periodical, Szemlélek, more than seventy percent of the nearly 3,000 participants have found it embarrassing that Christianity has become a political product. “We preach from the pulpit that you shall not steal, you shall not tell lies and you shall not dishonour others. And then, ten minutes later, in the sermon should we encourage the congregation to cast their votes on the political formation whose members clearly disobey these commandments?” – asks Mr. Hodász, adding that during the election campaign the messages conveyed by the omnipresent government billboards clearly violated these commandments.
As a matter of fact, when government media outlets fiercely attacked him, the Church did not stand up for András Hodász. Above of it all, while independent Hungarian media outlets – even tabloid programmes and commercial television stations – have unequivocally reported on the close-down of his popular YouTube channel called Papifrankó, the Church media – in contrast – has remained silent as if the channel has never existed. His name is even banned in the official Catholic portal called Magyar Kurír. By now Mr. Hodász is feeling the signs of burnout. For a while he has been considering leaving the church.
Of course, it would not be the first time in the history of the Church that a priest has had enough of the sale of indulgences.
„I do not wish to act like Martin Luther! I would like to stay in the Church where I belong. Still, let me preach what is in the Gospel” – he asserts.
At first sight it is not an overblown claim by a priest – yet, in 2022 in Hungary it is doubtful if he will have the opportunity to do so.
Photo credits: László Végh / Válasz Online