Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Hungarian scandal
Hungary's Very Dirty (And Very Hungarian) Dirty Priest Scandal

In February, Julius Janus, a Polish clergyman who had been the longtime Papal nuncio in Hungary, was abruptly transferred out of the country. At the time, the reasons for his leaving were unclear. But according to and other sources, the sudden exit of the Vatican's top representative was related to allegations that he had assisted in the cover-up of homosexual indiscretions involving top Hungarian clerics, and that proof of his malfeasance could be found in confidential letters dispatched under his signature.

While lurid in its own right, Janus's departure - apparently a "transfer" to the Balkans - is only the latest in a series of bombshells to hit Hungary's Catholic Church, some involving not crimes of lust but that most Hungarian of deadly sins, financial fraud.

Accused and accuser: Former Pécs Bishop Mayer and priest Wolf (top), former Papal nuncio Janus (with accordion) and crusading editor Wildmann (below right), whose publication shed light on the dark doings in the Pécs diocese.

At the center of the charges is the former Bishop of Pécs, Mihály Mayer, whose resignation - which may have been forced - was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year. Appointed to his position in the dramatic year of 1989 - on the Friday before the Thursday on which the Berlin Wall fell - Mayer was an outspoken conservative on doctrinal issues, particularly on the importance of clerical celibacy, and during his tenure he frequently weighed in publicly on issues of culture, morality, and history. From early on he was also a powerful advocate for the restitution of church property that had been seized by the communists, which in Pécs was quite considerable.

Mayer's downfall began as a decidedly dull dispute over the financing of a local Catholic elementary school, which had simmered for years in the pages of a left-leaning ecumenically-oriented religious journal, Egyházfórum ("Church Forum"). At the time, the journal's editor, János Wildmann, privately sought to warn church leaders that the Pécs diocese was a "time bomb." Wildmann's advice went unheeded. But it was proven painfully accurate when the Baranya County Prosecutor's Office announced last October an investigation into a close confidant of Bishop Mayer, diocese financial director - and, as it apparently turned out, pederasty enthusiast - Father Gyula Wolf. The investigation of the diocese appears to have been prompted by a 65-page document submitted to the prosecutor allegedly pointing to over 40 different crimes, including embezzlement, document forgery, and - this being Hungary - VAT fraud.

Most of the charges revolve around alleged financial irregularities involving a company called Fény Kft. ("Light Ltd."), the diocese's service administration firm, which was managed by Father Wolf and owned by the Bishop's private foundation, Gaudium Nostrum (literally: "our gaiety.") On top of this, there were also allegations involving the more traditional forms of "white collar" church crime, including sexual abuse of minors.

Hungary's post-Communist educational system provides for state funding of parochial schools via the dioceses, which receive subsidies from the government and then they transfer them to individual schools under their supervision. In 2006, the headmaster of Pécs' Szent Mór elementary school publicly conceded that the reason the school could not pay its teachers and its heating bill promptly was because the Pécs diocese had been routinely transferring the school's allotted state funds six or more months late. When the headmaster was removed from her position by the diocese - which accused her of fiscal incompetence - she and the school's parents argued their case in the pages of Egyházfórum. Three later independent audits of Szent Mór's accounting ultimately vindicated the headmaster's claims. The withholding of state funds and embezzlement of approximately $500,000 would be one of two charges against the diocese made public in November.

This case was followed by an additional charge involving a Catholic school in Paks. According to Index, Mayer had persuaded the school management to sign over their building to Fény Ltd. in exchange for the construction of a new gymnasium. Although the ownership of the school - worth Ft 500 million - was transferred to the company, as of now, the promised athletic facility has not been built.

Further allegations involve the disposal of real estate which residents of diocese-operated retirement homes were said to have turned over to Fény Ltd. - and which were subsequently sold at below market rates to Wolf's circle of friends. A circle of friends that, by the way, our own sources in Pécs say largely consists of Wolf's "boyfriends."

Although the allegations of financial misconduct have dominated much of the local coverage of the Mayer/Wolf scandal, Egyházfórum has continued to push hard on the charges of sexual abuse. In particular, its articles claim that Bishop Mayer had rebuffed "in a strange manner" the entreaties of well-intentioned parents concerned about an unnamed priest who taught religious education classes.

Those issues, however, came to widespread attention last month, when the police announced they had seized the computer of the parish priest of Bóly, a small town within the Pécs diocese, and discovered a large cache of child pornography on it. The investigation had been requested by international anti-crime agency Interpol on the basis of German police monitoring.

Szombathely bishop András Veres has been appointed to lead the Pécs diocese until a permanent replacement for Mayer is selected. Wildmann believes that criminal charges against Mayer are unlikely, given that he holds a knighthood in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, which grants him diplomatic immunity in Hungary. Then again, he may not need the immunity, since, when has any bishop or similarly senior Church official been prosecuted for these kind of crimes? And, anyway, this is Hungary.

Editor's Note: The above article was written by Budapest-based scholar Jeffrey Taylor, based on both his original reporting and other media sources. Related articles from the Pestiside archives can be found here (2009), here (2007), here (2006) and here (2004).


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Margarita said...

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