József Mindszenty

The native form of this personal name is Mindszenty József. This article uses the Western name order.
His Eminence
József Mindszenty
Servant of God
Archbishop of Esztergom
Prince Primate of Hungary

József Mindszenty in 1974
Archdiocese Archdiocese of Esztergom
Metropolis Archdiocese of Esztergom
See Archdiocese of Esztergom
Appointed 2 October 1945
Term ended 19 December 1973
Predecessor Jusztinián György Serédi
Successor László Lékai
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Santo Stefano al Monte Celio
Ordination 12 June 1915
by János Mikes
Consecration 25 March 1944
by Jusztinián György Serédi
Created Cardinal 18 February 1946
by Pope Pius XII
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name József Pehm
Born 29 March 1892
Csehimindszent, Hungary
Died 6 May 1975(1975-05-06) (aged 83)
Vienna, Austria
Buried Esztergom Basilica
Nationality Hungarian Hungary
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents József Pehm
Borbála Kovács
Previous post
Motto Pannonia Sacra
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Title as Saint Servant of God
Styles of
József Mindszenty
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal

József Mindszenty [jo:ʒɛf mindsɛnti] (29 March 1892  6 May 1975) was the Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom, cardinal, and leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary from 2 October 1945 to 18 December 1973. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, for five decades "he personified uncompromising opposition to fascism and communism in Hungary".[1] During World War II, he was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party.[2] After the war, he opposed communism and the communist 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. After eight years in prison, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted political asylum by the United States embassy in Budapest, where Mindszenty lived for the next fifteen years.[2] He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 in Vienna, Austria.

Early life and career

Mindszenty was born on 29 March 1892 in Csehimindszent, Vas County, Austria-Hungary, to József Pehm and Borbála Kovács. His father was a magistrate.[3] He attended St Norbert's Premonstratensian High Grammar School in Szombathely, before entering the Szombathely Diocesan Seminary in 1911.[4]

Mindszenty was ordained a priest by Bishop János Mikes on 12 June 1915, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1917, the first of his books, Motherhood, was published. He was arrested by the republican Mihály Károlyi government on 9 February 1919 for speaking out against its 'socialist policies' and then rearrested by the communist Béla Kun government on 31 July.[5][6]

He adopted his new name—part of his home village's name—in 1941. On 25 March 1944, he was consecrated bishop of Veszprém. He organised a letter to the Nazi authorities urging them not to fight in Western Hungary; this letter did not mention Nazi terror or the Holocaust. Indeed, on 25 June 1944, he allowed a mass to be held at which prayers were given that Veszprém be ridded of Jews.[7] He was arrested on 27 November 1944 for his opposition to the Arrow Cross government's plan to quarter soldiers in parts of his official palace. In April 1945, with the collapse of the Arrow Cross's power, he was released from house arrest at a church in Sopron.[8]

Church leader and opposition to communism

On 15 September 1945, he was appointed Primate of Hungary and Archbishop of Esztergom (the seat of the head of the Catholic Church in Hungary). On 21 February 1946, Archbishop Mindszenty was elevated to Cardinal-Priest of Santo Stefano Rotondo by Pope Pius XII, who told him, "Among these thirty-two you will be the first to suffer the martyrdom symbolized by this red color."[9]

To the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, Mindszenty was regarded as the archetypal figure of "clerical reaction". He continued to use the traditional title of prince-primate (hercegprímás) even after the use of noble and royal titles were entirely outlawed by the 1946 puppet parliament.[10] He was contacting the US embassy asking them to "engage in activities which were simply not diplomatically proper or politically feasible", and about which he was rebuked by the embassy.[11] Apart from such contacts, the Party accused him of having "aristocratic attitudes" and attacked his demands for compensation following the State seizure of Church-owned farmlands during the Party's campaign to abolish private farm ownership.[12] Since the main source of income for the Church was their agricultural lands, arbitrary and uncompensated confiscations by the communist government left many Church-run institutions destitute.[13]

Cardinal Mindszenty believed and preached that "The Church asks for no secular protection; it seeks shelter under the protection of God alone".[14] For this reason, he fought fiercely against the state policy to emancipate the Hungarian educational system from Church control by seizing parochial schools.

In 1948, religious orders were banned by the government. Soon after, Hungarian Premier Mátyás Rákosi accused both the Cardinal and the Catholic Church of being "a reactionary force in our country, supporting the monarchy and later the Fascist dictatorship of Admiral Horthy" and of also being, "the largest landowner in Hungary." This, according to Rakosi, was the only reason for Cardinal Mindszenty's opposition to the Party's policy of land confiscation.[15]

On 26 December 1948, Cardinal Mindszenty was arrested and accused of treason, conspiracy, and other offences against the new People's Republic of Hungary. 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 imprisoned by the communist government, Mindszenty was repeatedly hit with rubber truncheons and subjected to other forms of torture until he agreed to confess.[13]

Cardinal Mindszenty's forced confession included orchestrating the theft of the Crown of Saint Stephen for the sole purpose of crowning Crown Prince Otto von Hapsburg as King of Hungary, scheming to overthrow the Party and reestablish Capitalism, planning a third World War, and, once this war had been won by the Americans, assuming supreme political power himself.[16]

Almost alone among the Western news media, reporter George Seldes, who had previously been expelled from the Soviet union and fascist Italy for his reporting, agreed to the allegations. Seldes would spend the remainder of his long life accusing Mindszenty of being a Nazi collaborator, a Holocaust perpetrator, and a virulent anti-Semite.[17] In his 1987 memoirs, Seldes wrote, "In 1948 the entire American section of the resident foreign press corps in Hungary implored me to report the facts about Cardinal Mindszenty's collaboration with the Nazis, his part in the deportation of the Jewish population to Hitler's death camps, and also to expose the scores of fraudulent news items coming from outside Hungary, from Vienna, London, Prague, and Rome especially, alleging drugging and torturing of the Cardinal."[18]

On 3 February 1949, Cardinal Mindzenty's show trial began. Showing visible signs of having been tortured, the Cardinal walked into the court and confessed to all charges. As he followed the trial, a weeping Pope Pius XII told Sister Pascalina Lehnert, "My words have come true and all I can do is pray; I cannot help him any other way."[19] On 8 February, Cardinal Mindszenty was sentenced to life imprisonment for treason and espionage. The government released a White Book Documents on the Mindszenty Case containing his confessions and case materials.

On 12 February 1949, Pope Pius XII announced the excommunication of all persons involved in the trial and conviction of Mindszenty. On 20 February 1949, the Pope addressed a series of questions to "an enormous crowd which had gathered in St. Peter's Square" to protest the Cardinal's show trial and conviction. He asked, "Do you want a Church that remains silent when She should speak; that diminishes the law of God where she is called to proclaim it loudly, wanting to accommodate it to the will of man? Do you want a Church that departs from the unshakable foundations upon which Christ founded Her, taking the easy way of adapting Herself to the opinion of the day; a Church that is a prey to current trends; a Church that does not condemn the suppression of conscience and does not stand up for the just liberty of the people; a Church that locks Herself up within the four walls of Her temple in unseemly sycophancy, forgetting the divine mission received from Christ: 'Go out the crossroads and preach the people'? Beloved sons and daughters! Spiritual heirs of numberless confessors and martyrs! Is this the Church you venerate and love? Would you recognize in such a Church the features of your Mother? Would you be able to imagine a Successor of St. Peter submitting to such demands?"[19] According to Sister Pascalina, who witnessed the rally, "In reply to the Holy Father came a single cry like thunder still ringing in our ears: 'No!'"[19]

In a subsequent apostolic letter, Acerrimo Moerore, the Pope publicly condemned the Cardinal's conviction[20] and described his tortures.

On 30 October 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Mindszenty was released from prison. He returned to Budapest the next day. On 2 November, he praised the insurgents. The following day, he made a radio broadcast in favour of recent anti-communist developments.

Confinement at the US embassy

U.S. Embassy in Budapest
József Mindszenty in early 1960s

When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary on 4 November 1956 to restore the communist government, Cardinal 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, and did not participate in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963.

György Aczél, the communist official in charge of all cultural and religious matters in Hungary, felt increasingly uncomfortable about the situation in the late 1960s when Mindszenty fell seriously ill and rumors spread of his impending death. Yet Aczél failed to convince party leader 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.


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 28 September 1971. Beginning on 23 October 1971, he lived in Vienna, Austria, as he took offence at Rome's advice that he should resign from the primacy of the Catholic Church in Hungary in exchange for uncensored publication of his memoirs backed by the Vatican. Although most bishops retire at or near age 75, Mindszenty continually denied rumors of his resignation, and he was not canonically required to step down at the time.

In December 1973, at the age of 81, Mindszenty was stripped of his titles by the Pope, who declared the Archdiocese of Esztergom officially vacated, but refused to fill the seat while Mindszenty was still alive. Mindszenty died on 6 May 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.


In 1991, Mindszenty's remains were repatriated to Esztergom by the newly democratically elected government and buried in the basilica there.

József Mindszenty memorial plaque in Budapest, Hungary

Mindszenty is widely admired in modern-day Hungary, and no one denies his courage and resolve in opposing the Arrow Cross Party, in Communist imprisonment, or in exile.

His beatification and eventual canonization has been on the agenda of the Hungarian Catholic Church ever since communism fell in 1989, and the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI was seen by many analysts as an excellent opportunity, as the Pope had commented favourably on Mindszenty's calling.

The Mindszenty 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, USA. A monument was donated by the Hungarian community of Greater Cleveland in 1977 and stands at Cardinal Mindszenty Plaza in Downtown Cleveland. He is 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.

In June 1974, Cardinal Mindszenty visited the Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley, California. Woodside Priory was founded by seven Hungarian Benedictine monks who fled the repression following the revolution. A bronze memorial has been placed on the school's campus noting his visit. A monument is placed at St Raymond Church in Menlo Park, California, USA, to commemorate a mass Cardinal Mindszenty said there in December 1974.[21]

Memorial to Mindszenty in Bustamante Park, Santiago, Chile

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.

The 1955 film The Prisoner is loosely based on Mindszenty's imprisonment, with Alec Guinness playing a fictionalized version of the cardinal.[22]

He was reported as disliking the fictional version of his situation.[2]

The two-part 1966 episode, "Old Man Out" of television's Mission: Impossible was loosely based on Mindszenty. The episode's premise was that a Catholic cardinal, a political prisoner and hero to his people, was slated for execution in an Eastern European prison. The series' protagonists were tasked with smuggling him out of the prison and country before he was executed.

See also


  1. "József Mindszenty". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Last, Alex (5 September 2012). "Fifteen years holed up in an embassy". BBC. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  3. Mindszenty, József Cardinal (1974). Memoirs. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.
  4. "József Mindszenty (1892–1975)". National Széchényi Library. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  5. Luxmoore, Jonathan; Babiuch, Jolanta. The Vatican and the Red Flag: The Struggle for the Soul of Eastern Europe. A&C Black. ISBN 9780225668834. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  6. Mindszenty, József Cardinal. Memoirs. pp 3-8. 1974. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
  7. Kenez, Peter. Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944-1948. Cambridge University Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780521857666.
  8. http://www.freeweb.hu/eszmelet/34/baloghs34.html Archived 9 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  9. Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert (2014), His Humble Servant: Sister M. Pascalina Lehnert's Memoirs of Her Years of Service to Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, St. Augustine's Press. Page 150.
  10. "The Cardinal Who Lived in the Embassy | Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training". adst.org. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  11. Chip Berlet, "Cardinal Mindszenty: Heroic Anti-Communist or Anti-Semite or Both?" The St. Louis Journalism Review, Vol. 16, No. 105, April 1988.
  12. 1 2 Mindszenty, József Cardinal (1974) Memoirs. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
  13. Mindszenty, József Cardinal. Memoirs. p34. 1974. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.
  14. George Seldes (1987), Witness to a Century: Encounters with the Noted, the Notorious, and the Three SOBs, Ballantine Books, New York. pp. 414-416.
  15. Streatfield, Dominic. (2007) Brainwash: The Secret History of Mind Control. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 0-312-32572-X
  16. Seldes (1987), pages 417-423.
  17. Seldes (1987), page 418.
  18. 1 2 3 Lehnert (2014), page 150.
  19. "Ad Ecx.mos PP.DD. Archiepiscopos et Episcopos Ungariae, die II m. Ianuarii, A.D. MCMXLIX - Pius PP. XII, Epistula | PIUS XII". w2.vatican.va. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  20. St. Raymond church Bulletin. 16 September 2012
  21. Hollywood's Cold War, Tony Shaw, p 110 ISBN 978-0748625246

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to József Cardinal Mindszenty.
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Gyula Czapik
Bishop of Veszprém
3 March 1944 – 2 October 1945
Succeeded by
László Bánáss
Preceded by
Jusztinián György Serédi
Archbishop of Esztergom
2 October 1945 – 19 December 1973
Succeeded by
László Lékai
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