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József Mindszenty (March 29, 1892—May 6, 1975) was a cardinal and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. He became known as a steadfast supporter of Church freedom and opponent of communism and the often brutal Stalinist persecution in his country. As a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trial that generated worldwide condemnation, including a United Nations resolution. Freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he was granted political asylum and lived in the U.S. embassy in Budapest for 15 years. He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 Vienna, Austria.
Early life and career
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Persecutions of the
He became a priest on June 12, 1915. In 1917, the first of his books, Motherhood, was published. He was arrested by the socialist Mihály Károlyi government on February 9, 1919, until the end of the communist Béla Kun government on July 31.
He adopted his new name—part of his home village's name—in 1941. He also joined the Independent Smallholders' Party in this period, in opposition to the Fascist Arrow Cross Party. On March 25, 1944, he was consecrated bishop of Veszprém, which is a distinguished post because the town traditionally belonged to the queens of Hungary. He was arrested on November 26, 1944, for his opposition to the Arrow Cross government, and charged with treason. In April 1945, he was released from prison.
Church leader and opposition to communism
On September 15, 1945, he was appointed Primate of Hungary and Archbishop of Esztergom (the seat of the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary). On February 18, 1946, he was elevated to cardinal by Pope Pius XII. His titular church in Rome was Santo Stefano Rotondo. In 1948, religious orders were banned by the government.
On December 26, 1948, Mindszenty was arrested again by the Communists and accused of treason, conspiracy, and offences against the current laws. Shortly before his arrest, he wrote a note to the effect that he had not been involved in any conspiracy, and any confession he might make would be the result of duress. While he was in prison, he was relentlessly tortured in order to coerce a confession for "crimes against the state."
On February 3, 1949, his trial began. On February 8, Mindszenty was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason against the Hungarian government. The Communists released what they called a "Yellow Book," a listing of confessions extorted from Mindszenty by torture. At his trial, he declared the note he had written about statements made under duress to be null and void. On February 12, 1949, Pope Pius XII announced the excommunication of all persons involved in the trial and conviction of Mindszenty. In his apostolic letter, Acerrimo Moerore, he publicly condemned the mistreatment and jailing of the cardinal.
On October 30, 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Mindszenty was released from prison and he returned to Budapest the next day. On November 2, he praised the insurgents. The following day he made a radio broadcast in favour of recent anti-communist developments. The self-declared "worker-peasant government" of János Kádár later used his speech as a "proof" of dominant clerical-imperialist influence in the October 1956 events to show that the uprising was counter-revolutionary in nature.
Confinement at the US embassy
When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary on November 4 to restore the overthrown communist government, Mindszenty sought Imre Nagy's advice, and was granted political asylum at the United States embassy in Budapest. Mindszenty lived there for the next 15 years, unable to leave the grounds.
György Aczél, the communist official in charge of all cultural and religious matters in Hungary, felt increasingly uncomfortable about the situation in late 1960s when Mindszenty fell seriously ill and rumor spread about the priest's impending "martyrdom". Yet, Aczél failed to convince János Kádár that freeing Mindszenty would create valuable confusion in the Vatican and allow the state to better control the remaining clergy.
Mindszenty's presence was also an inconvenience to the US government because the Budapest embassy was already overcrowded, his quarters took valuable floor space, and a permit for expansion could not be obtained from the Hungarian authorities unless he was expelled.
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József Cardinal Mindszenty
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Eventually, Pope Paul VI offered a compromise: declaring Mindszenty a "victim of history" (instead of communism) and annulling the excommunication imposed on his political opponents. The Hungarian government allowed Mindszenty to leave the country on September 28, 1971. Beginning in October 23, 1971, he lived in Vienna, Austria, as he took offence at Rome's advice that he should resign from the primacy of the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church in exchange for a Vatican-backed uncensored publication of his memoirs. Although most bishops retire at or near age 75, Mindszenty continuously denied rumors of his resignation and he was not canonically required to step down at the time.
In December 1973, at the age of 82, Mindszenty was stripped of his titles by the Pope, who declared the Hungarian cardinal's seat officially vacated, but refused to fill the seat while Mindszenty was still alive. Mindszenty died on May 6, 1975, at the age of 83, in exile in Vienna. In early 1976, the Pope made Bishop László Lékai the primate of Hungary, ending a long struggle with the communist government. Lékai turned out to be quite cordial towards the Kádár government.
Mindszenty is widely admired in modern-day Hungary, and no one denies his courage in opposing the Nazi and Nyilas gangs, or his resolve in confinement, which is often compared to that of Lajos Kossuth in exile. However, Mindszenty is seen as the archetypal figure of "clerical reaction" by many of his critics. He continued to use the feudal title of prince-primate (hercegprímás) even after the use of nobility, peerage and royal titulature were entirely outlawed by the 1946 parliament (under Soviet influence). His aristocratic attitudes and continued claims for compensation against nationalization of vast range of pre-World War II church-owned farmlands alienated large groups of the Hungarian society, which was composed of a majority of agricultural workers at the time.
His beatification and eventual canonization has been on the agenda of Hungarian Catholic church ever since communism fell in 1989. The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI is seen by many analysts as an excellent opportunity, as the Pope is equally traditional in his views on church and secular matters and has commented favourably on Mindszenty's calling.
The Mindszeny Museum in Esztergom is dedicated to the life of the churchman. A commemorative statue of Cardinal Mindszenty stands at St. Ladislaus Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.. He is also remembered in Chile, with a memorial in the same park (Parque Bustamante) in which a monument to the martyrs of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution stands.
Mindszenty's life and battle against the Soviet domination of Hungary and communism were the subject of the 1950 film Guilty of Treason which was, in part, based on his personal papers and starred Charles Bickford as the cardinal.
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Jusztinián György Serédi
|Archbishop of Esztergom|
2 October 1945–19 December 1973
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