The late cardinal and Esztergom archbishop József Mindszenty has received a full legal, moral and political rehabilitation after a request by Cardinal Péter Erdõ was accepted by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
The ruling ends a 23-year procedure that began with a re-trial process of his show trial, number 254/1949, in 1989. A law passed by Parliament and a ruling of the Supreme Court in the following year had already declared the innocence of Mindszenty, and the current resolution merely closes the official investigation by the prosecution.
“This decision has great significance for the spiritual recovery of Hungary,” the Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and the country’s Primate, Erdõ, said. “Looking at the past realistically is only possible through steps like this. This is not a process which can be completed in a matter of days but this was certainly a step in the right decision.”
Imprisoned for beliefs
Mindszenty – who was featured on the 14 February 1949 cover of Time magazine – was a steadfast supporter of church freedom and an opponent of communism and fascism.
He first spent time in prison during the Béla Kun government in 1919, then between November 1944 and April 1945 for his opposition to the Nazi Arrow Cross government’s plan to quarter soldiers in parts of his official palace.
Mindszenty was arrested again in 1948 – already a cardinal – after religious orders were banned by the government.
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 under duress. While he was imprisoned by the communist government he “confessed” to working with Americans against the state of Hungary. Among other forced confessions, Mindszenty admitted that he had orchestrated the theft of Hungary’s crown jewels with the explicit purpose of crowning Otto von Habsburg emperor of Eastern Europe.
He “admitted” that he had schemed to remove the communist government, had planned a Third World War and that, once this war was won by the Americans, he himself would assume political power in Hungary.
15 years in U.S. embassy
On 3 February 1949 his trial began. In a matter of five days Mindszenty was sentenced to life imprisonment, prompting worldwide condemnation including a United Nations resolution. Freed in the 1956 Uprising 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, before dying in exile in 1975 in Vienna.
“This is the summary of a long story full of suffering and I hope that it will contribute to the spiritual healing and the rise of our people,” Erdõ said. The “rehabilitation is a clear sign that the Hungarian justice system has put the difficult heritage of show trials behind itself”.
Although the Catholic Church never accepted the communist life sentence and even excommunicated all persons involved in the trial and conviction, the decision may assist efforts to beatify Mindszenty, which have been on the agenda of the Hungarian Catholic Church since the change of regime. Pope Benedict XVI has commented favourably on Mindszenty’s calling.