József Mindszenty ( 1892-1975)

Born (József Prehm) into a peasant family in Csehimindszent, Vas County, he attended St Norbert' s Premonstratensian High Grammar School in Szombathely, before entering the Szombathely Diocesan Seminary in 1911. He was ordained priest in 1915 and appointed a divinity teacher in Zalaegerszeg in 1917. During the post-war revolutions, Mindszenty was arrested on February 9, 1919 as an organizer among the right-wing Christian movements in the town, but later released. In October of that year, he became the parish priest of Zalaegerszeg. In 1921, he was appointed an archdeacon, and in 1924, he was made titular abbot of Pornó (Pornóapáti). Bishop János Mikes of Szombathely appointed Mindszenty in 1927 to be his episcopal representative in the Zala County parts of his diocese. In 1940, Prime Minister Pál Teleki appointed him to organize in Transdanubia the movement known as the National Political Service, which was designed to combat the growing Nazi influence among the German community in Hungary. On March 4, 1944, he was appointed bishop of Veszprém by the Pope. On October 31, 1944, he, the bishops of Székesfehérvár and Győr, and the arch-abbot of Pannonhalma sent a joint memorandum to Prime Minister Ferenc Szálasi calling for an end to the hostilities. On November 27, he and several seminarists were arrested and taken off to Sopronkőhida, where he remained in captivity until the arrival of the Soviet forces. On May 24, 1945, the Bishops' Conference invited him to compose a joint pastoral letter weighing the situation in the country. On September 5, he was appointed by Pope Pius XII to be Archbishop of Esztergom (and therefore primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary). He was made a cardinal in Rome on February 18, 1946. As primate, Mindszenty was uncompromising in his opposition to the mounting Stalinist influence in the country. A press campaign was fomented against him and on December 26, 1948, he was arrested by the secret police, the ÁVO. During his captivity, he was tortured on several occasions. On February 8, 1949, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by the council of the Budapest People's Court, headed by Vilmos Olti. Mindszenty's imprisonment was condemned by the UN General Assembly in a resolution. In view of his declining health, an agreement was reached between the government and bench of bishops to move Mindszenty. He was taken on July 17, 1955 to the episcopal summer residence at Püspökszentlászló (Hosszúhetény) and later to Felsőpetény in Nógrád County, where he remained under house arrest. There news reached him of the outbreak of the revolution. He was visited on October 29, at the instigation of Imre Nagy, by János Horváth, president of the State Office of Church Affairs, who wanted to take him to Budapest or Esztergom, but Mindszenty would not reach agreement with him. On the following day, the ÁVH withdrew its guard and declared him free. At ten o'clock at night, there appeared at Felsőpetény a detachment of officers of the Rétság armoured regiment, who took him to their barracks. He was taken to the Úri utca archbishop's palace in Buda on October 31, under military escort. On the following day, he received a large number of Hungarian and foreign visitors and issued a press statement. On November 1, he was visited on behalf of the government by Zoltán Tildy and Pál Maléter. On the evening of November 3, Mindszenty gave a radio address to the nation, emphasizing the continuity of his policy. His central points were the need to restore the external and internal peace of the country and to establish a society ' in a culture-nationalist spirit' based on a multi-party system and 'justly limited private property'. He strongly supported the maintenance of national unity, but at the same time, he called upon the ' successors of the defeated system' to call the guilty to account through impartial courts, to restore freedom of worship and to return to the Catholic Church 'its institutions and societies'. In view of the intervention by the 'Russian empire', he called the events a liberation struggle, not a revolution. At dawn on November 4, Mindszenty went to Parliament at Tildy's request and then fled to the United States Embassy, where he received asylum. On September 28, 1971, he left the embassy and Hungary under a prior agreement between the Hungarian state, the US administration and the Vatican. Mindszenty was received in Rome by Pope Paul VI and confirmed in his position as archbishop. He chose the Pázmáneum, a Hungarian seminary in Vienna, as his place of residence, and took as his main task the moral improvement of the Hungarian community in the West, for which he made several visitations abroad. On November 1, 1973, Paul VI called upon him to offer his resignation, in the interests of an opening by the Vatican towards the communist countries. Mindszenty was not prepared to do this. The Pope declared the archbishopric of Esztergom to be vacant on November 8. He died on May 6, 1975 in a Vienna hospital and was buried, as he had requested, in the Basilica of Mariazell, Austria. His remains were returned to Hungary on May 4, 1991 and laid to rest in the crypt of Esztergom Basilica.

Please send comments or suggestions.

This page was created: Wednesday, 3-Dec-2003
Last updated: Wednesday, 3-Dec-2003
Copyright © 2003 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Top of the page