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Religion: Captive Bishops

2 minute read

It was a bitter week for Hungary’s Roman Catholics. Into Budapest’s Parliament building walked Archbishop Julius Czapik, the eight remaining bishops of the Hungarian hierarchy and the heads of four religious teaching orders. Hands to hearts, they swore “to be loyal to the Hungarian People’s Republic.”

Their oath-taking, 2½ years after the trial and imprisonment of Cardinal Mindszenty, showed that the Reds have apparently erased the last open resistance of the church inside Hungary. Three weeks before, the same bishops obediently declared their support of the Communist “Peace Movement of Catholic Priests”−a support which Archbishop Josef Grösz, Mindszenty’s successor as Hungary’s primate, also in prison, had steadfastly refused to give.

Outside the country, a Hungarian church in exile is growing swiftly. Its communicants: 200,000 refugees who have fled since 1945. Its frontier outposts: a dozen relief stations in Western Europe (mainly Austria), where the Hungarian Caritas (Catholic welfare organization), financed by U.S. Catholics, gives shelter to Hungarians of all sects who manage to slip across the border. The Vatican’s man in charge: Monsignor Josef Zagon, 42, onetime chancellor of the diocese of Györ and follower of Cardinal Mindszenty, who escaped from Hungary just before the cardinal’s arrest.

As minister to exiled Hungarians wherever they may be, Monsignor Zagon bears the title, Apostolic Visitor Extraordinary. The title reflects the worldwide dispersal of his flock: 100,000 of them in Free Europe, another 100,000 scattered in North and South America and Australia. One of Zagon’s jobs is to provide them with Hungarian-speaking priests, from a pool of more than 250 who are under his administrative direction. He also has general responsibility for 125 Hungarian seminarians, now continuing their theological studies at various European schools—men who can carry on the old tradition.

From his headquarters in Innsbruck, Zagon keeps in precarious touch with Catholics inside Hungary. Refugees report that despite persecution of the hierarchy, parish churches have never been so full. Because almost any preaching may expose them to Communist wrath, priests have taken to reading from the gospels in place of preaching sermons. The prayer “Free Me from Evil” draws such a response as to be almost a political demonstration.

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