“Have they bought him off? He sold himself, he sold the church.” – An elderly parishioner reacting to Vicar Fr. László Németh’s endorsement of the Fidesz-KDNP candidate Zoltán Hegedűs in February’s mayoral by-election.
The city of Hódmezővásárhely will hold a mayoral by-election on February 28th to replace recently-deceased mayor István Almási. Fidesz is throwing its support behind deputy mayor Zoltán Hegedűs. Independent candidate Péter Márki-Zay has managed to secure the support of all major opposition parties, making this by-election highly anticipated for a number of reasons:
- Hódmezővásárhely is a Fidesz stronghold. Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár has served as an MP for the southern city’s electoral district since 2002, and he was may0r between 2002 and 2012.
- A defeat for the ruling party in a Fidesz stronghold would shake the ruling party to its core — especially one month before the 2018 national election on April 8.
- Márki-Zay, a former Fidesz supporter, has asked opposition parties to back him in a manner resembling the strategy that sent Zoltán Kész, an independent MP from Veszprém, to parliament after a similar by-election in 2015. Opposition parties are getting behind him.
- Since announcing his candidacy, the independent has been attacked relentlessly by Hungary’s pro-government propaganda outlets, a sign that Fidesz is well-aware of the stakes of this by-election.
Márki-Zay, who has described himself as a “disillusioned Fidesz supporter” who has voted “for right-wing Christian parties ever since the [political] transition,” got himself into hot water with the local power structure after referring to the city leadership as a “dictatorship.”
Now, the Catholic Church is getting involved
Shortly after making these remarks, it was reported that Vicar Fr. László Németh of Hódmezővásárhely would make an appeal to the local laity to reject Márki-Zay’s assertion that the city is run like a dictatorship. And that is precisely what happened this past Sunday at a parish in the city.
After mass, Németh took the stage to reject the notion of a dictatorship by arguing that the city – and the churches – have prospered greatly in recent years thanks to the generous contributions of the government.
“Never since the Second World War have the Hungarian nation and Hungarian churches, not just the Catholic Church, had the opportunity to enjoy the kind of support that they now receive from the government — in education, health care, social services, publications, and the list goes on,” Németh told the congregation. “The money is already in the account here in Hódmezővásárhely. We are just now starting construction on a third Catholic church in the suburb. Seeing all these facts, I think the people can make the right decision on who to vote for when they enter the voting booth.”
Németh then made the veiled accusation that any so-called Christians who make false testimony are violating the 8th Commandment.
According to index.hu, his post-mass rant visibly shocked those in attendance.
“A priest who drags his [followers] into the mud of politics must accept the consequence of doing so,” a father of five told index.hu outside the parish church.
“Shameless,” another man added.
“I have a lot of respect for the priest, but have they bought him off?” An elderly woman asked on her way out. “He sold himself, he sold the church.”
The fact that the Catholic Church has involved itself in politics should surprise no one
State financing of state-recognized church activities has been the subject of numerous Beacon articles over the years. Recently we reported that at the end of 2017 the government distributed more than USD 413 million to churches by decree, that is, outside the normal budgetary process. According to the Fiscal Responsibility Institute, church-run schools also receive three times more funding than public schools.
The government is very keen on demonstrating its financial goodwill toward politically-loyal churches, especially in the run-up to the national election. In early January pro-government media was eager to showcase the government’s decision to gift the Hungarian Baptist Church a new building in Budapest and HUF 400 million (USD 1.6 million) for renovations.