Cardinal Erdö and Catholicism in Mitteleuropa
Cardinal Péter Erdö, who will be 70 years old on June 25th, is Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and Primate of Hungary. Polyglot, a canonist, as well as a dynamic administrator, he is considered an eminent figure, though discreet and almost timid, of the “neoconservatives” in the Sacred College. He is a good representative of the type of leader found in the Churches of Eastern Europe that have suffered oppression under Soviet dictatorship.
With very little sympathy, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community,in his book La Chiesa bruscia, introduces the theme of the Nation related to Catholicism, a theme commonly entertained by these Churches, and presented by Riccardi as a resurgence of a suspicious national-Catholicism. He considers that it is wrong for the Churches of Poland and Hungary to align themselves with a “theology of the Nation”, extolled by John Paul II strong of his Polish experience with the liberating process from communism, because this pope, he claims, was very open regarding migratory issues and “world’s common good.”
In any case, the head of the Magyar Church showed himself to be in phase with the stance of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on opposing migratory invasions, even if the Archbishop made sure to reassure Pope Francis of his loyalty. A loyalty clearly based on difference, in the same way we saw Péter Erdö, during the Assembly of the Synod on the Family in 2015, defend the traditional moral position: people in situation of adultery would have to break away from that sin before being able to receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist.
The Episcopates of Poland and Hungary share the same position in favor of family and the politics of traditional re-foundation applied by the government of these countries: family moral values, teaching of catechism in schools. The Europe of the Visegrád group (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic), including Slovenia with Janez Janša, close to Viktor Orbán (but Janša just lost the elections), is very much opposed to welcoming any of the waves of migrants ready to pour into their countries.
A different type of Europe, but one Ukraine feels quite comfortable with. In that respect, the visit to Kiev, on 15 March 2022, of the Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary (Orbán had actually delegated his participation to Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister, Jaroslav Kaczynski, leader of the leading party in Poland) was an interesting episode within the context of very complex events of interpretation of the war in Ukraine. This visit which in theory was carried out with the label of the European Union so to ensure Ukraine of its support, could have very well be to prepare the ground to bring post-war Ukraine in the group of the not so liberal Eastern democracies, facing the very liberal ones of Western Europe.
As it happens, in Ukraine as in Poland or Hungary, the Church is, if we may say “not so liberal”. Most Ukrainian Catholics belong to the Eastern Catholic Church which represents 8% of the country’s population. This Church keeps the vivid memory of the many martyrs, illustrious celebrated figures who lived under the Communist regime. The great witness of this terrible and glorious era was Josyf Slipyi, who was made cardinal in pectore (in secret) by Pius XII. He remained head of the Ukrainian Eastern Catholic Church for forty years, of which eighteen years were spent in prison camps. His last days he spent in Rome, though his relation with Paul VI was sometimes tense as he judged the pope’s Ostpolitik too accommodating with communist power. In 1977, he manifested his independence by consecrating, according to the right of his Church, bishops without pontifical mandates (among these candidates were Cardinal Hussar who succeeded him in second as Major Archbishop, after Cardinal Lubachivsky). His third successor is His Beatitude Syiatoslav Chevtchouk, Major Archbishop of Kiev and Galicia, 52 years old, originally from Galicia, formerly Austro-Hungarian empire, as was the case for Karol Wojtyla. Thus, he is at the head today of the most important of the Eastern Churches in union with Rome, with six million faithful. As the figure head of the largest non-Latin Church, he is in a way the second hierarch of the universal Church after the pope (though very far behind, of course, in number of faithful). If he is not a patriarch, it is because Rome is reluctant to it so not to offend the Orthodox Churches, and if he is not Cardinal, it is because his moral positions (and generally ecclesial as well), quite traditional, are notoriously not in line with Amoris lætitia.
Furthermore, his preoccupations in terms of moral values, as characterized by Catholicism in Eastern countries, coincide on several issues, such as the fight against legalization of same sex “marriages”, with the ones of the Orthodoxe Patriarchate of Moscow. The surprising meeting in Cuba, in February 2016, organized for Pope Francis and Patriarch Kyrill in order to intensify relations between Rome and Moscow, though left wide open to criticism, is certainly not to be forgotten. Indeed, many voices in Orthodoxy are calling for an ecumenism based on the defense of civilisation, resistance to the ultra-liberalism of Western culture. And the war today definitely does not abolish a community of views shared by Eastern Christians against the menace of ultra-liberalism vis a vis the moral basis of social and family life, and against the discrimination towards Christians in modern society.
In this context, Cardinal Péter Erdö, who additionally in 2006 was President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), is a prelate who should be influential once this present pontificate is over.
Don Pio Pace