CHURCH AND RELIGION
    IN A COMMUNIST STATE    
1945-1990

by MACULAN MARIANNA

 

The article: "Church and Religion in a Communist State" (*) provides an historical excursus about the condition of the churches, especially the Catholic one, during the forty years of the communist regime. The suppression of the religious institutions was very violent and the letter that is subject of the article "Dirty Tricks" confirms how hard and often deceitful the communist methods were. The strict of the government control of the church lasted until the 80s, when an increasing renewal compelled the government to revise its strategy.
 

Only after the collapse of Communism and the abolition of the communist department for church affairs the religious worship became free again but forty years of constrains are still heavy.

 

The Catholic Church was the only religious institution after 1948 which refused to accept concentration of educational and charitable function in communist hands. But the Communist government stepped up the use of force. Cardinal J. Mindszenty, who was the chairman of the Hungarian Catholic Bishops` Conference and Prince-Primate of Hungary was the first to be arrested on December 26, 1948, and later sentenced to life imprisonment. During the propaganda campaign, public servants were forced to sign petitions for the execution of the cardinal.

After the internation of 2000 priest and nuns and their confining under inhuman condition the episcopate started negotiating with the government and signed an agreement (30 August 1950). This sanctioned the secularization of church schools, the banning of religious orders and forbade their members to leave the country. Even after the accord and the government`s assertion in 1951: "church management is in practice placed under government control" (1) imprisonments and extreme forms of persecution went on until the

 

The Communist control on the church had its more evident expression in the State Office of Church Affairs, an agency of the party church policy set up in 1951. The State policy on religion turned towards a new strategy in the 80s. The politicians in charge of church affairs tried to make people believe that "relationship between the State and the church and religious denominations has long been normalized" (3). The same chief of the three major churches used the media to proclaim their "excellent relation with the State" .

(4)This new strategy was set up in order to respond to three new factors that concerned the policy-makers:-the religious renewal represented by the young, professional people and the urban population in general, often organized in small communities. This renewal counterbalanced "the continuing decline of traditional piety" (5).The general liberalization took place and Hungarian people had the possibility to express their opinion about the strict control of the State in particular to criticize certain discrimination against the believers: "withdrawal of passports, exclusion from further education or from promotions, etc." (6).

 

The new opening in international relations, the cultural interchange gave the believers the possibility to get in touch with the Western theological thinking and to seek the support of churches abroad. 
In order to keep a firm hand on the church the politicians felt that it was now not enough to just manipulate its leadership and repress the opponents. Neither their new diplomatic design nor their propaganda could prevent the collapse of Communism and the consequent breakdown of the State-control of the church. The Office of Church Affairs was abolished in 1989, "pastoral services were introduced in hospitals and prisons in the autumn of 1990" (7) , and "since the spring of 1990 Hungarian Radio and Television have regularly broadcast religious programs" (7a). Diplomatic relation between the Vatican and Hungary were re-established in February 1990 and the Pope visited the Republic of Hungary in 1991
.

With the start of a new democratic social system religiousness became free but it is not easy to put this into practice. The injuries of the past are still opened. "Discrimination impeded the education of those who practiced their religion. Rigid political control hindered church institutions in their development. Everything must start practically from scratch", (8) according to the rules of a pluralist society and of democracy.

 

(*) A.Tomka: "Church and Religion in a Communist State 1945-1990" in "New Hungarian Quarterly" Vol.XXXII, No.121, Spring 1991.

(1) Domonkos, P.Peter: "Rendulrtlenul" (Steadfast). Szeged, Eotvos-Szentgellert, 1989.

(2) A.Tomka, op.cit. PP.62.

(3) A.Tomka, op.cit. PP.64.

(4) Statement by Korzenszzkim "Milyen szocializmust akarunk?", "Magyar Nemzet, 20 Feb.1988, pp.7.

(5) A.Tomka, op.cit. (note 2) pp.63.

(6) A.Tomka, op.cit. (note 2) pp.63.

(7),(7a) A.Tomka, op.cit. (note 2) pp.67.

 


    DIRTY TRICKS      

by MARIANNA MACULAN
 

 

The second short note is based on the article: "DIRTY TRICKS 1948" (1) It reports a confidential letter written by M.Komocsin, assistant secretary, to the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers` Party Organizing Department. 
T
his document is part of the campaign against the church and shows one of the "dirty tricks" the Communist used to create confusion among the church in order to impose the supremacy of communist truth.

In 1948 a performance of the children`s choir of the Stephen`s Cathedral of Vienna was organized in the Votive Church. The clergy organized everything, from the accommodation of the choir to their concert. The Communist assembled a team of some 200 agitators in order to destroy clergy`s plans. The result was that the choir was transferred from colleges under church control to workers` families and that the choir performed in the Tiszo Hotel. Moreover the agitators instigated discontent among people and gave them notice that the clergy wanted to make a profit out of that business.
The letter was concluded with these words: "To sum up: it can be stated that trough this action we have succeded in increasing the discontent and panic which we had caused among the clergy by our recent actions, and through which we succeeded in upsetting their careful plans and forcing them to lay low for a time. With Comradely Greetings..." (1).

 

(1) M.Komocsin jr. "Report on propaganda work concerning the performance in Szeged of the Wiener Senger Knaben" in "Dirty Triks", "New Hungarian Quarterly", Vol.XXXII, No.121, Spring 1991, pp.72

 

 


LIVING YOUR FAITH IN 1990

by MARIANNA MACULAN
 

 

The third short note summarizes the article: "LIVING YOUR FAITH IN 1990" by I.Kamaras, in "New Hungarian Quarterly", Vol.XXXII, No 121, Spring 1991. This article reports the present conditions of the church, it explains the new realities in the religious field and the relationship of these with the traditional institutions. As the result of worldwide secularization combined with the atheism forced upon people by a Stalinist State the loss of religious faith was very fast and deep in Hungary.

Also after the fall of the communist government the traditional church was not completely been re-established ; the religiousness is shifting to a new type where the protagonists are small, very active communities. According to the surveys that Kamaras studied "only a third of religious people declare themselves to be believers in terms of the doctrines of their church; the others think of themselves as religious after their own fashion. A majority of the latter do not practice their religion , and lack a sense of identity with a congregation or parish, feel their religion to be individual and in some aspects they are critical of their church, in particular of its leaders" (1). A survey shows that among university students "the proportion of those professing religion after their own fashion is two or three times that of those who follow the doctrines of a church. The proportion of atheists (an approximately equal number of materialists, non materialists and Marxists atheists) is relatively small" (2).

 

While the smaller sects with fewer than 30,000 members (Baptists, Methodists Seventh Day Adventists...) cover a wide range of activities from help and support to culture, the historical churches (Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran) not only are seldom able to organize parish clubs libraries scout troop and newspapers bat also are now not able to administrate the Sacraments. Baptisms, confessions and weddings are steeply decreasing, "the confirmation is often bitterly called -the Sacrament of leaving the church-"(3). The Catholic Church is especially blamed for the "lack of courageous and decision-capability" (4).

To counterbalance this decline there are around three-four thousand small communities made up of former members of the historical churches, it is hard to establish the exact number because they have recently surfaced after an underground life during the communist years. Moreover it is difficult to get their purpose because they are still diffident of the church leaders and keep apart from the parishes.

 

Among these 95 per cent are Catholic communities. One of the old movements is the one century year old Regnum Marianum, its principal purpose is the education of youth and "its main values are Christianity, self-cultivation, love of nature and national identity" (5). Another important one is the Bokorm set up 45 years ago and based on "poverty donation and non-violence".(6) The radicalism of its members often clashed with the communist system and with the church leaders especially when they refused to do military service or they criticized the Catholic hierarchy. The Regnum Marianum and the Bokor have Hungarian origin, there are also other two major foreign movements: Focolare movement and the Charismatic. These four major movements cover 100-200 communities each.

 

The general features of the several communities are: "the growing influence of laymen, a demand for personal involvement and community life, political repression which forced them to go underground, deeper religiousness, the challenge of small churches" (7).It is not clear yet if they will be recognized as an institution or isolated to a sectarian activities neither it can be foreseen if they will be able to increase the territory where they work. The author thinks that "there is an acute shortage of communities and alternatives and these small communities are real alternatives making up for the shortage". The sociologist M.Tomka wrote in early 1990: "On the one hand we feel the increased need for Christianity and we are part of the religious renewal. On the other hand we are painfully aware of our smallness, our limits, our helplessness" (8).

 

Finally the author makes a list of the main goals that should be reached in the near future: "A more up-to-date, dialogue-oriented theology presenting an image of man as well; a democratization of the rigidly hierarchical, obsolete church institutions; the promotion and the support to the small communities; the balance between Christians Jews and Calvinists; the participation of the Church in education and socialization by presenting something valuable and different." (9) To conclude Kamaras hopes that in the future the church will be able to keep tradition alive as well as to work for radical reform.

 

(1) Kamaras, I. :"Living your faith in 1990" in "New Hungarian Quarterly" Vol.XXXII, No.121, Spring 1991, pp.74.

(2) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.74-75.

(3) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.76-77.

(4) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.78.

(5) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.78.

(6) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.78.

(7) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.78.

(8) M.Tomka, in K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.78.

(9) K.I. op.cit. (note 1) pp.79-80.

 

 

 

 

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