Rescued during 1956 uprising
On June 23, 1971, Cardinal Konig (of Vienna) informcd me that Mgr Maser Zagon would be visiting me from Rome. He came as the personal envoy of the Holy Father, accompanied by Mgr Giovanni Cheli, and called on me at ten o'clock in the morning on June 25. As a gift from the Pope, Cheli gave me the first volume of the new breviary, and after transmitting to me the greetings of the Cardinal-Secretary of State, he left my apartment.
When we were alone, Mgr Zilgon informed me of the Holy Father's concern about the fate of my person. He explained the reasons that had prompted the Holy Father to advise my leaving the embassy.
I received the impression that 'the United States Government, in view of the changed situation and in consideration of my age, regarded my leaving the embassy as desirable. Myr Zagon also mentioned my illness and the complications that would ensue if I were to die in the embassy.
He continued: "Therefore the Holy Father has arrived at a solution that will place Your Eminence's sacrifice in a new light, so that your moral importance will be seen by the entire world public to have increased. You will have lost none of your well-earned credit and will be able to serve as an exemplar for the whole Church. The Holy Father wishes to do everything in his power to bring this about."
Mgr Zigon stressed that there was little chance of my memoirs being published in my lifetime unless I were able to take my manuscripts abroad and personally see to publication. I could also be of eminent assistance to the Hungarian Church and nation. As Primate of Hungary I would be able to participate in the exiles' celebrations of a thousand years of Hungarian Catholicism and thus contribute a great deal to the renewal of the moral and religious life of Hungarians abroad.
I made my objections, the chief one being that I did not want to abandon my flock and the Church in their difficult situation. I also wanted to end my life in my native land, in the midst of my flock. My departure would serve only the interests of the regime, would be harmful to the Church. The Bolsheviks could be trusted, I said, to exploit any change in my situation for the ends of the propaganda. I therefore wanted the Holy See to use my departure as a bargaining point and in return, before 1 made my final decision, to insist that the regime make some amends for the damage it had inflicted on the Church. Mgr Zagon then assured me that the Holy See itself would ensure that the Communists would not be able to exploit my leaving the country for propagandistic purposes. As for making up for the wrongs the Church had endured, the Vatican would fight tenaciously during the negotiations, and in many respects there already appeared to be some hope of detente.
I myself placed primary emphasis on guarantees of freedom for religious instruction and on the elimination of the "peace priest" movement. But the Pope's envoy saw no prospect-for detente in these two important areas.
Our discussions lasted for three days. In the meantime I discussed with Zagon the draft of the letter to be sent to the Holy Father in which I briefly mentioned the suffering to which I had been subjected and offered my own opinion of the charge that I was the "greatest obstacle to a normal relationship between Church and State." I sent this letter to the Holy Father by courier.
Mgr Zagon wrote out a minute of the discussions and asked for my signature. I refused to sign. Above all, I objected to the concluding sentence which indicated that we had arrived at the agreement that I would be able to go abroad as a
free man under no restrictions "except for the conditions noted in Points 1-4."
ZAgon urged me to decide, but I went on maintaining that I needed time for reflection.
I knew quite well that I had become an undesirable guest in
the embassy not only because of
my illness but also because I stood in the way of the policy of' detente. It is, however, also true 'that my earlier illnesses were once again reaching an acute stage.
The Holy Father's letter of July 10, 1971, reached me very soon after President Nixon's.
He had taken note of the fact that I was prepared to leave the embassy; his personal emissary would be spending four days in Budapest once again, from July 14 on; and he asked me to arrive in Rome at least in time for the opening of the synod of bishops in September.
Mgr Zagon prepared my departure. It was settled that could receive a Vatican diplomatic passport and that he himself and Mgr Cheli, together with the Papal Nuncio, would come from Vienna in two automobiles to fetch me and would accompany me from Budapest to Vienna. We would take with us the most essential of my belongings; everything else, including the manuscripts of my memoirs, would then be sent by diplomatic courier to the American Embassy in Vienna. Departure was finally fixed for September 29, 1971.
When I went into exile, I found some feeble consolation
in the thought that if God gave me life and strength I would, even abroad, be able to serve three important Hungarian goals. They were: as Primate of Hungary to take the many hundreds of thousands of
homeless Catholics under my episcopal care: to warn the
world public of the peril of Bolshevism by publishing my memoirs; and perhaps now and then to concern myself with the tragic fate of my nation.
In all my speeches, and in radio and television broadcasts, I dealt with the grave predica ment of the Hungarian Church and with the fate of our much tried people. It therefore did not surprise me when I learned that the Hungarian Communist regime took a very dim view of the ceremonies, protested to the Vatican against my remarks, and demanded that measures be taken to silence me.
Subsequently bishops from Hungary quite often appeared at the Holy See, in obedience to instructions from the Bureau for Church Affairs, to complain about the "harmful" nature of my activities. Because of me, they said, the regime was taking vengeance on the entire Catholic Church. They demanded that I be reduced to total silence.
These protests were received in the Vatican, and on October 10, 1972 -in the thirteenth month of my exile — I was informed by the Papal Nuncio in Vienna that the Holy See in the summer of 1971 had given the Hungarian Communist Government a pledge that while I was abroad I would not do or say anything that could possibly displease that government.
I replied that in the negotiations conducted from June 25 to June 28, 1971, between the Holy Father's personal emissary and myself there had been no mention of any such pledge. Had I known about any guarantee of this sort, I declared, I would have been so shocked that I would have asked the Holy Father to rescind all the arrangements that had been made in conjunction with my departure from Hungary. After all, the fact was widely known that I had wanted to remain in the midst of my suffering people and to die in my native land. I asked the Nuncio to inform the appropriate Vatican authorities that a sinister silence already prevailed within Hungary and that I shrank from the thought of having to keep silent in the free world as well.
This admonition came to me on the eve of my journey to Fatima. In spite of everything the Holy Father did not ask me to show him the address I had prepared for Fatima; but the Nuncio's office in Lisbon censored it behind my back when it was already in the printshop.
A whole paragraph was deleted, including such sentences as the following: "The East proclaims that There even the worst atheists have become gentle lambs. Do not believe it! You shall know the tree by its fruits. It is possible that in the East there are more churchgoers than in many a Western country, but that is not to the credit of the regimes there, but of those Christians who manage to walk bowed down by the weight of the cross."
I arrived in Portugal on October 11, 1972. At the airport I was received by the patriarch, several bishops, and many leaders in secular and Church life. On the evening of the
twelfth I took part in the torchlight procession in Fatima and in the rosary procession the next morning. I concelebrated Mass with Cardinal Bibeiro, with the members of the Portuguese episcopate, and with many European, American,and African priests.
On October 14 1 visited one of the visionaries of Fatima, Sister Lucia, in Coimbra. On the morning of the fifteenth we made the Stations of the Cross at the Hungarian Calvary and I celebrated Mass in St Stephen's Chapel. That afternoon we flew to Madeira. '
In Funchal, at the tomb of King Charles IV, whose body was being exhumed for the initiation of the canonisation proceedings, I celebrated Mass for Hungarians.
I shall be brief about my July, 1973, trip to visit Hungarians in England. In London, Cardinal Heenan received me with brotherly love and hospitality. Twice he turned his cathedral over to me and my companions. On the first day it was filled. with Hungarian Catholics, on the second day by English. My host's sermon was not calculated to win applause from the Communists. Among other things he said: "While Cardinal Mindszenty remains an exile the world will not be allowed to forget that Communism is inflexibly hostile to religion. To regard dialogue with Marxists as if it were a purely academic exercise is ingenuous and dangerous. We who live in liberty. must not rest while men and women of any religion are persecuted. If world Communism is in earnest about spreading peace let it cease from persecution. Let Hungary invite its Cardinal Primate to return home to the people for whom he is father and hero."
On the last day of my stay in England I accepted the invitation of a number of prominent individuals to take part in a banquet in Parliament. One hundred and thirty MPs published a statement declaring that Great Britain cordially welcomed Cardinal Mindszenty as the most prominent freedomfighter in Europe, who fearlessly opposed Nazi and Cornmunist repression and for that opposition suffered prison and persecution.
Undoubtedly the Hungarian. Communist regime was even more irritated by the English cardinal's remarks and the above statement. The result was that after my trip to England, Budapest pressed the Vatican even harder to depose me and reprimand me. The question of my memoirs also became involved in these events.
My memoirs were already prepared for the press in Hungarian and German in the summer of 1973. In July I sent the manuscript to the Holy Father. He wrote me on August 30 that he had read the manuscript with great interest and emotion. He was grateful to me for having sent it, because he was thus able to acquaint himself with my "valuable" and painful biography.
The manuscript was truly valuable, fascinating, overwhelming, he said. The reader was afforded insight into my fate; admiration and sympathy were aroused and the conviction established that in God's eyes so much trial and suffering could not be in vain.
The Pope did not object to anything in the text. However, he called my attention to the fact that the Hungarian Communist regime could retaliate in two ways. It might revive the slanders of me, and it might punish the entire Church of Hungary.
In my reply to the Holy Father 1 made the following points, among others:
1. I am already accustomed to incessant slanders from the enemies of the Church and am already resigned to the idea that the so-called progressive and Leftist Catholics will join these enemies in systematically attacking me. But it is my human right, and as a bishop it is actually my duty, to rebuff the slanders if I can do so in full freedom.
Aside from the fact that have forgiven my enemies, in my memoirs I describe only facts. As the Holy Father was able to see, I have avoided any provocative or polemical tone which might prompt base vengeance on me personally or on the Church.
2. The history of Bolshevism, which already goes back more than half a century, shows that the Church simply cannot make any conciliatory gesture in the expectation that the regime will in return abandon its persecution of religion. That persecution follows from the essential nature and internal organisation of its ideology.
Not even the Russian Orthodox Church managed to escape persecution. It was persecuted during the period of coexistence and the period of subjugation. The experiences with negotiations between Budapest and the Vatican prove the same point. For although ever since 1964 the Vatican's diplomats have been negotiating about "peace priests," religious instruction, and unhampered pastoral work, the "peace priest" movement has been revived and has flourished during these very years, and religious instruction has been completely suppressed in the towns and many villages also.
Almost without exception the capable and devout parish priests are separated from their flocks by force or fraud. The sole result of the spectacular negotiations, which the Communists have exploited for propaganda purposes, has been to bring into the Church those bishops who have been selected by the bureau for church affairs mostly from the ranks of the "peace priests." The activities of these bishops have been profoundly detrimental to ecclesiastical discipline.
I then informed the Holy Father that in the autumn we would be giving rights of publication of my memoirs to a large European or American publishing house. 1 pointed out that for some time Catholics and non-Catholics alike in all parts of the world had been urging the publication of these memoirs.
After my arrival abroad I set up, with the aid of several benefactors, the Cardinal Mindszenty Foundation. The bylaws of this foundation provide that its funds are to be used for charitable purposes. I now turned over to this foundation all the rights to my memoirs. The directors of the foundation then entered into a contract with the West Berlin publisher Propyliten Verlag.
From everything that happened afterward I can deduce, with a high degree of probability, that the Pope could no longer resist the bombardment of the Budapest regime.
On November I, I was asked to resign my archiepiscopal office. The Pope asked this of me with "bitter reluctance" since, he said, he knew very well that this represented still another sacrifice to add to the sufferings I had already experienced. But he said that he had to consider "the pastoral necessities" of the archdiocese of Esztergom, now orphaned for 25 years. Otherwise it would continue to be "without the direct and personal leadership of a bishop," and that would :Inflict great harm on souls and on the Hungarian Church." The letter concluded with the remark that after my abdication I would be "freer" to arrange the publication of my memoirs.
After my tour of South Africa, which lasted from November 22 to December 5, I answered the Pope's letter. My reply, after mature consideration, was dated December 8, 1973. In all reverence I informed the Holy Father that because of the present condition of the Catholic Church in Hungary I could not abdicate my archiepiscopal office.
I sent him a long treatise on the pernicious activities of the "peace priests," on the StateChurch system that had been organised by force, and I noted all the negative consequences of the Vatican negotiations which had been going on with the Communists for the past ten years.
I said that I feared my abdication, and the subsequent occupation of the post of Primate of Hungary by a churchman who would be chosen with the consent of the Bureau of Church Affairs, would contribute to legitimising the present catastrophic ecclesiastical conditions in Hungary.
I listed all the disadvantages and damage to Hungarians abroad that might be the outcome of my abdication, since had taken over the task of ministering to them for lack of an auxiliary bishop abroad. Finally I pointed out to the Holy Father the possibility that if I were relieved of my office there might well follow attacks upon him personally.
After all this, exactly on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my arrest, I was pained to receive a letter from the Holy Father dated December 18, 1973, in which His Holiness informed me with expressions of great appreciation and gratitude that he was declaring the archiepiscopal See of Esztergom vacant.
In a letter of January 7, 1974, I expressed my profound grief. But I also informed the Pope that neither personal sorrow nor clinging to office were the reason for my being unable to accept the decision, I cannot accept the responsibility, I wrote, for the consequences of this decision because such measures only add to the already difficult predicament of the Hungarian Church. They are harmful to religious life and sow confusion in the souls of Catholics devoted to their Faith and priests devoted to their Church.
I asked him to recind this decision. But nothing of the sort was done. Instead, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my show trial, on February 5, 1974, the announcement of my removal from the See of Esztergom was published. Next day, to my profound sorrow, I found myself forced to make this correction through my office:
Cardinal Mindszenty has not abdicated his office as archbishop nor his dignity as Primate of Hungary. The decision was taken by the Holy See alone, This is the path I travelled to the end, and this is how I arrived at complete and total exile.
This article Is extracted from "Memoirs: Cardinal Mindszenty," to be published In the spring of next year. by Weidenfeld & N icolson
0 1974 Ullstaln/Propylaon 114w110; English translation Macmillan Publishing Co. Inc.