“Orbán, a practising Christian as well as a veteran of anti-Communist activism in the dying days of the Cold War, is a ‘civilisationist.’ For him the guiding light of politics is the continuity and integrity of a particular community and its particular way of life rooted in Christianity. All Orbán’s policies, from his pro-natalism and his immigration-scepticism to his restrictions on LGBT activism and the activities of George Soros, are directed towards that end: the survival and flourishing of the Hungarian people and their religion, language, and customs in their historic homeland. You may not think that is a worthy aim; you may think that he is pursuing it badly or ineptly. But that is what he seeks.“ —Niall Gooch, writing in the Catholic Herald on August 16, three days ago, describing the political vision of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister. Orbán has been sharply criticized by many in the West — including Pope Francis — especially for his anti-immigrationist policies, but Gooch argues that Orbán’s vision should not be so summarily denounced. His excellent article is entitled “Why the Holy Father and Victor Orbán will forever be at odds”
“In his statements the Pope shows little interest in the idea of preserving any given country as a Christian nation. Instead his concept of a Christian country is one that is above all concerned with political implementation of Gospel imperatives, regardless of the second- or third-order consequences of such actions. Welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, with no eye to creed or colour.” —Niall Gooch, in the same article
“Is a historically Christian nation obliged to admit large numbers of adherents of different faiths, or none at all, such that the influence of the faith is weakened? There is no single correct answer to such problems in Christian political theology. Ultimately what is required is a synthesis: perhaps neither Orbanism or Francis, but some solution which incorporates the best insights from both.” —Niall Gooch, in the same article
Letter #102, 2022, Friday, August 19: Hungary
Hungary is becoming ever more important in Europe, and in western culture, and its cardinal primate, Cardinal Peter Erdo (photo below) who turned 70 on June 25, is increasingly being mentioned as a possible candidate to be the next Pope (see link and link).
[Note: Ten years ago I did an interview book with Cardinal Erdo, which can be found at this link.]
As John Gizzi wrote in a Newsmax article on June 25, a Vatican insider told him this summer that “The boss [meaning Pope Francis] is not going to be around for long… At the most, he will be there until December.”
Gizzi continued: “The same source told Newsmax to closely ‘watch Cardinal Erdo… he is the one who [the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next Pope] are beginning to talk about. And he will be great.'”
In this context, a piece by Niall Gooch in the Catholic Herald on August 16 is important reading, as well as a piece on Cardinal Erdo and Cardinal Tagle in an unsigned article from August 5, also in the Catholic Herald (texts below). Good reading… —RM
Why the Holy Father and Victor Orbán will forever be at odds (link)
By Niall Gooch
August 16, 2022
In September 2021, the Holy Father paid a visit to central Europe. He spent three days in Slovakia and a mere seven hours in Hungary, giving rise to understandable speculation that he was delivering a snub to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The rebuff – if it was a rebuff – was almost certainly due to the sharp difference of opinion on political matters between the man from the Vatican and the man from the Carmelite Monastery of Buda (the official residence of the Hungarian PM).
An especially clear dividing line between the two is their approach to mass migration.
Mr Orbán was one of the leading critics of the German-led open borders approach to the 2015 migrant crisis, which saw millions being resettled within the EU after making their way northwards from Greece and Italy. Pope Francis, by contrast, has repeatedly called for European countries to respond more generously to newcomers from south and east of the Mediterranean.
Since the migrant crisis, Orbán has continued to set out his stall as the leader of the EU’s immigration restrictionists (and in certain respects his arguments have triumphed; the EU as a whole has become much more wary of a repeat of 2015, with increased powers and funding for the border force Frontex and a realpolitik deal with Turkey to prevent migrants from crossing the Aegean).
Only a few weeks ago he attracted widespread criticism for stating his desire to prevent Hungary from experiencing the kind of demographic change which is taking place in Western Europe.
The Vatican did not formally respond to the speech but we can be confident that it did not go down well in the papal apartments.
In the grand scheme of things, the Francis-Orbán disagreement is not perhaps very significant. Hungary is a small country, with only around ten million people – less than three per cent of the EU total. What it does illustrate, however, is a significant and striking divide in what we understand by Christian politics.
Orbán, a practising Christian as well as a veteran of anti-Communist activism in the dying days of the Cold War, is a “civilisationist”. For him the guiding light of politics is the continuity and integrity of a particular community and its particular way of life rooted in Christianity. All Orbán’s policies, from his pro-natalism and his immigration-scepticism to his restrictions on LGBT activism and the activities of George Soros, are directed towards that end: the survival and flourishing of the Hungarian people and their religion, language, and customs in their historic homeland. You may not think that is a worthy aim; you may think that he is pursuing it badly or ineptly. But that is what he seeks. The past century has been a grim one for the Hungarians, with loss of territory, foreign occupation, war damage and atrocities featuring heavily.
Francis is an Argentinian. Argentina, like most of its neighbours and unlike Europe, is not a popular destination for migrants from other continents and radically different cultures. While its twentieth century history was turbulent, it did not suffer foreign domination or war. It does not face the prospect of fast and irreversible demographic change, and so it is perhaps difficult for Francis to enter sympathetically into the mindset of someone from a much smaller and more vulnerable country. Orbán also fits the template of the kind of man that Argentinian Jesuits like Jorge Bergoglio are used to regarding with suspicion and hostility. Looked at with a jaundiced, prejudiced eye, he resembles the kind of aggressive, chauvinistic nationalist leaders who have plagued Latin America, cementing their own power with rhetorical assaults on alleged enemies within.
In his statements the Pope shows little interest in the idea of preserving any given country as a Christian nation. Instead his concept of a Christian country is one that is above all concerned with political implementation of Gospel imperatives, regardless of the second- or third-order consequences of such actions. Welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, with no eye to creed or colour. This is an attractive vision and one with a good deal of support in Christian tradition. Christ’s instructions for how to treat the vulnerable were not hedged round with caveats. In this line of thinking, to prioritise an individual country’s national interest over the needs of the poor is a kind of idolatry.
However, a key point to remember about those teachings is that they are given to individuals and to the Church; they do not translate neatly to action at the national political level. The command to turn the other cheek does not mean that we abolish the criminal justice system. The demand that we are hospitable to the stranger in our land does not settle the question of how many strangers a government should admit. No less an authority than Thomas Aquinas suggested that newcomers to a polity should have to wait several generations before being allowed to participate in politics, to ensure that they truly had the community’s best interests at heart.
Catholicism has long insisted on the role of prudence in the political vocation. Leaders must think about the best interests of a country and a people in their decision-making.
Can a country of ten million open its borders with the same insouciance as a country of eighty million or one of three hundred million?
Is a historically Christian nation obliged to admit large numbers of adherents of different faiths, or none at all, such that the influence of the faith is weakened?
There is no single correct answer to such problems in Christian political theology.
Ultimately what is required is a synthesis: perhaps neither Orbanism or Francis, but some solution which incorporates the best insights from both.
[End of August 16 article]
Here is the second article from the Catholic Herald, from August 5.
Erdő vs. Tagle: the battle to be the next Pope (link)
August 5, 2022
As speculation grows about the potential resignation of Pope Francis, whoever the next Pope is will say a great deal about the direction of a Church being pulled in different directions and threatened by schism with a progressive Synodal Path. One leading candidate to succeed Pope Francis is Hungary’s Cardinal Erdő, a conservative canon law expert coming from a country on the frontline of the European culture war. His appointment would send a powerful message about the direction the Church would be taking. On the other hand, a Pope from the developing world – such as the Philippines’ Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle – would be hailed by liberals, given the changing demographics of the Church.
But this may not be the victory liberals wish for. Even as the College of Cardinals is becoming less European, conservatism remains the driving force of the Church in the Global South, where – for instance – attitudes to LGBT issues are far more traditionalist than in the Anglosphere and western Europe.
While various names have been thrown around for the next Pope, such as Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet or Dutch Cardinal Wim Eijk on the conservative side – alongside compromise figures like Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech or Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi – the Pope is said to favour Cardinal Tagle or Italian Cardinal and Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
But it is Cardinal Erdő who may be emerging as a front-runner.
As John Gizzi – Chief Political Correspondent for Newsmax – recently pointed out, “talk of Erdő as a future Pope is nothing new.”
But, as Gizzi wrote, one Vatican insider told Newsmax the current Pope “is not going to be around for long”, adding that “at the most, he will be there until December.”
Meanwhile the source told Newsmax to closely “watch Cardinal Erdő… he is the one who [the College of Cardinals, who will elect the next Pope] are beginning to talk about.”
The Hungarian cleric – considered a traditionalist who shows respect to those who prefer the Latin Mass – also has the respect of liberals and could be a unifying force within the Church.
This could be especially necessary if there are two living former Pontiffs, or if and when Pope Francis – in retirement – becomes a loadstar for liberals in the event of a conservative successor.
Pope Francis has already appointed Cardinal Erdő as the “relator general” of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
But if Cardinal Erdő’s election would send shockwaves throughout Europe – at a time of cultural schism between the two halves of the Continent – the election of a Pope from the Global South, would perhaps signal the changing face of Catholicism, and indicate that Pope Francis’ liberal direction had been cemented.
As Newsweek pointed out: “Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines has been given 5/1 odds of being elected the next pope by British bookmakers OLBG. Also highly favored to replace Francis is Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has been given odds of 6/1.”
Cardinal Turkson is, however, a noted conservative who offered his resignation as head of a Vatican department last year, apparently fed up with internal divisions.
As Newsweek reported, Cardinal Tagle “is viewed as a top papal contender thanks to a series of promotions that make Francis’ esteem for him clear.”
Called the “Asian Francis”, he was appointed by Pope Francis to lead the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in 2019.
Crucially, Cardinal Tagle is seen as representing the Church’s progressive wing, having criticised previously “harsh words” against LGBT Catholics. But again, Cardinal Tagle comes from a conservative country, which may compromise his liberal credentials as a successor to the current Pope.
By contrast, the election of a Pope from central and eastern Europe would be hugely significant the other way, and seen as a massive shot in the arm to conservatives in that region.
While it would be wrong to characterise Cardinal Erdő as aligned directly with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Cardinal’s past statements suggest some sympathies, while he is the leading Catholic in a country which is now 80 per cent Christian and very much on the conservative nationalist side of the great European cultural divide.
Orbán would see a Hungarian Pope as a hugely significant moment.
Back in 2015, during the height of the European migrant crisis, Cardinal Erdő struck a tone which would seem to align with Orbán.
Just as Pope Francis was calling on Catholics to take in refugees, the Cardinal said taking in refugees would amount to human trafficking. Meanwhile, Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo – the Church’s most senior official in southern Hungary – was quoted as saying Pope Francis “doesn’t know the situation” and Hungary was under “invasion.”
As Niall Gooch wrote for UnHerd: “Francis and Orbán represent two approaches to what Christian politics should look like in the modern world. Among all the governments of Europe, Orbán is probably the leading standard-bearer for what you might call ‘civilisationism’. He is concerned with the persistence and survival of a particular people, and a particular culture, in a particular place – primarily the Hungarians, but also Europe more widely.”
Yet, the Pope, Gooch argues: “draws on other streams in Christian political thought. As an Argentinian Jesuit, the type of villain that looms large in his mental furniture is the aggressive and chauvinistic nationalist leader, who cemented his own power with cynical attacks on foreigners and the enemy within.”
In the Pope’s eyes, “a Christian country and culture is not one preoccupied with its own integrity and its own survival, but one which makes an unshakeable political imperative from the divine commands to welcome the stranger and to recognise all men as brothers.”
In Hungary, Catholic officials are known to ally with Orbán, who has overseen a constitution with references to God and Christianity, and funded Christian schools.
Yet, despite Cardinal Erdő’s statement, the following year he expressed concern about tendencies to turn religions against one another.
Then in an interview with Valasz On Line in 2019 – when asked about Islam and immigration – Cardinal Erdő asked rhetorically: “Can a country, a continent, be called a Christian?”
He added: “I wouldn’t emphasise whiteness as a Catholic, though,” suggesting he could reach across the aisle to liberals.
A contest between Erdő and Tagle would show a Church at a crossroads, not just between conservatives and liberals, but between the forces of traditionalism in Europe – the original heart of Catholicism – and the changing face of the faith, focused more in the developing world, yet still largely conservative in outlook, not least on LGBT issues.
If symbolism matters, then Erdő vs. Tagle would be a contest not just of ideas but of perception and identity.
[End, August 5 article]