Father Zoltán Németh – the priest in Körmend, Hungary, who offered shelter asylum-seekers forced to sleep in tents during the dead of winter – has been transferred to another parish, reports Szemlélek, a Hungarian faith blog.
We wrote about Németh in December 2016, when his decision to open up his parish to asylum-seekers (which included Christians) during the dead of winter prompted sharp criticism from proponents of the government’s hostile anti-refugee policies.
When Németh’s deeds made the national news, generous donors contributed to the parish to offset the increased utility costs and purchased winter clothing for the asylum-seekers forced to sleep rough outside in the government’s Körmend tent camp.
Aside from being sharply criticized by locals, Németh’s decision to offer assistance was also treated with a certain amount of incredulity by government and church officials.
Despite the administrative hurdles put in place, some religious leaders had taken an active role in aiding asylum-seekers, organizing food and aid.
Others, however, including Sándor Szenczy of Hungarian Baptist Aid and the Hungarian Catholic Church’s Archbishop of Esztergom and Primate of Hungary Péter Erdő, shunned the opportunity to show compassion, opting instead to toe the government line.
The transfer of clergy from one church to another is not unusual. However, according to Szemlélek, the circumstances of Németh’s transfer indicate it was not as transparent as one might believe.
The blog writes that Németh was recently approached by freshly-appointed Szombathely diocesan János Székely on Székely’s first day on the job. Székely reportedly offered Németh the transfer to the town of Celldömölk, some 70 kilometers away, which Németh accepted.
“From this, it appears as though this decision was not made entirely based on pastoral considerations,” Szemlélek writes.
According to the blog, Németh could not move into the priory for two months because its renovation had not been finished.
Németh declined to comment on Szemlélek’s report, and said the events speak for themselves.
Szemlélek writes that another bishop referred to the transfer as a move that brings back the memory of the infamous State Religious Affairs Agency, which in the communist era imposed the state’s will upon churches. (Ironically, Fidesz’s headquarters used to house the State Religious Affairs Agency.)
According to this bishop, if the transfer was not prompted by pastoral reasons, there could have been more prosaic reasons: either a request on behalf of the state, or an internal decision within the church to resolve this “conflicting” situation.