Archbishop claims laws prevent Catholic Church from helping asylum seekers

September 4, 2015

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“It is with the knowledge of the depth of this historical situation that we express our concern for the fate of our Middle Eastern Christian brethren. At the same time, we must emphasize that it is the state’s right and responsibility to defend its citizens.” – Archbishop Péter Erdő

“While we do live in a cruel country, we haven’t yet arrived at the point where those who are helping those in need are being prosecuted.” – Hungarian Helsinki Committee

Cardinal Péter Erdő, the Hungarian Catholic Church’s Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary, has reportedly stated that current laws in Hungary prevent the country’s churches from providing shelter to the wave of asylum seekers.

Hungarian news site nol.hu reported Erdő as having made the statements  at a press conference following a meeting of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Thursday.

Erdő said the state has been providing aid to asylum seekers in Hungary. He said Catholic organizations are present at places where further assistance is needed but they are “discrete” about it.

When asked to comment on news that the Austrian Catholic Church has started providing shelter to asylum seekers in Austria, Erdő said the Austrian situation cannot be compared to the Hungarian situation because the vast majority of asylum seekers in Hungary do not want to seek shelter with the Hungarian Catholic Church.

He also said the asylum request process in Hungary differs from that of Austria.

Erdő said the legal situation surrounding “the migrants” changes every day in Hungary and “more stable and understandable rules” are needed.

Hungary’s churches were not legally permitted to provide asylum to asylum seekers stranded in Hungary because, if they did, then they would be taking part in human smuggling.

Erdő said the Hungarian Catholic Church has been consulting with the government about using the Church’s properties as shelters for the asylum seekers.

He said he hopes the two parties can reach an agreement before winter settles in.

In a statement released Thursday morning, the Hungarian Catholic Bishops’ Conference wrote:

“It is with the knowledge of the depth of this historical situation that we express our concern for the fate of our Middle Eastern Christian brethren. At the same time, we must emphasize that it is the state’s right and responsibility to defend its citizens”.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an NGO that provides legal aid for asylum seekers, said Erdő’s statements (that the Church would be engaging in human smuggling if it provided asylum to asylum seekers) are wrong.

According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, “human smuggling” refers to the criminal action of providing assistance to someone trying to illegally cross a border. As long as there is no border between the asylum seeker and the Catholic Church’s property, the Catholic Church cannot be charged for engaging in human smuggling.

“While we do live in a cruel country, we haven’t yet arrived at the point where those who are helping those in need are being prosecuted,” wrote the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.