Publicly revealing who collaborated with the communist secret service – a process known as átvilágítás, ‘lustration’ – has been the subject of repeated debate since the fall of communism (1990).
The church has not been exempt. The law on the lustration of public figures allowed church leaders to obtain information on their subordinates, for example whether they had collaborated with the internal secret service during communism (Act XXIII/1994. § 4). Clergy would have become involuntarily subject to the procedure, so the Constitutional Court abolished the provision in late 1994 (Decision 60/1994. (XII. 24.) AB). An amendment to the law in 2000 made it possible for church personnel (clergy and other staff) to seek a certificate on a voluntary basis from the lustration board to establish their non-involvement (Act XXIII/1994. § 18 (4) inserted by Act XCIII/2000. § (5)). Some Protestant church leaders (and all the pastors of the Unitarian Church) subjected themselves to the lustration, but the Catholic Church and most Protestant Churches showed little interest in such state assistance for the internal renewal of their communities, which had been victimized under communist rule. The law expired at the end of 2005, and public interest in the matter is declining, but the future handling of the archives remains a delicate issue and a subject of discussion.
Parliament passed an amendment in May 2005 that foresaw publishing almost all entries of the archives of the internal secret service (the agency that spied on citizens, including church activities). Following preliminary checks, the amendment was quashed by the Constitutional Court because the accuracy of the entries could not be ensured and the law provided no remedy for those accused of collaboration (Decision 37/2005. (X. 4.) AB). In certain cases the only remaining ‘evidence’ is a form containing personal data, but it remains unclear whether these are data on someone who was observed or someone who delivered reports on others. Establishing a whole picture of the regime remains extremely difficult.
- Equal treatment v. religious freedom
Mainstream religious denominations (the Catholic Church, the Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church and the Alliance of Jewish Communities) filed an unprecedented joint initiative with the Constitutional Court in 2004 claiming that the new law on equal treatment passed by Parliament in late 2003 was unconstitutional.
Religious groups consider that the new law endangers church autonomy, especially concerning employment, as religious affiliation could only be taken into consideration with genuine religious ministries (and state authorities determine what qualifies as such). The case is pending.
Emotions ran high when members of government sharply criticised Károli Gáspár Reformed University for expelling a homosexual student from its School of Theology. Courts meanwhile dismissed claims by a gay rights association that the University violated the equal treatment law.
- Funding of public service church institutions
Churches are free to perform any public activity that is not reserved to the State. Churches performing public activities (maintaining schools or engaging in social service) are granted support from a budget that is supposed to equal the support received by public institutions that serve the same purpose (Act IV/1990, section 19 (1)). The large majority of public services are provided by municipalities, which receive per capita funding for the services from the central budget. As the central funds are normally insufficient, municipalities supplement them from their own resources (for example local taxes). Churches are supposed to receive from the central budget the national average of the total local expenditure.
Taking education as the most important activity as an example, churches that maintain schools receive from the central government the same amount per student that municipalities spend on education, based on a national average. In the case of a church owned hospital the social security system provides the same fees as paid to public general hospitals.
The principle of equal funding of public activities is guaranteed by law. It was reinforced by a Constitutional Court decision stating that equal funding was required by the Constitution as a consequence of religious freedom and the principle of non-discrimination (Decision 22/1997 (IV. 25.) AB). The accord with the Holy See and agreements with other major churches also reinforced this principle. In the present social and financial circumstances only this principle allows the actual presence of church institutions in public services. As the funding is guaranteed in many ways and flows automatically, it does not infringe the independence of church maintained public institutions.
While the principle of equal funding of public service church institutions seems to be undisputed, controversies on implementation arise repeatedly. The government first tried to prevent churches from opening social care institutions without the consent of the local municipality. As this would violate a fundamental right of churches, the Constitutional Court quashed the limitation (Decision 15/2004. (V. 14.) AB). The 2005 budget introduced a new way of calculating the funding for church schools that denies some elements of public funds. The mixed commission set up to ensure the implementation of the 1997 agreement on financial issues between the Holy See and Hungary has not so far been able to resolve the dispute.
- Political controversies
Government officials – including Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány at his audience with Pope John Paul II in December 2004 – have repeatedly complained that churches are interfering in politics by issuing moral statements in current public debates (especially in advocating making citizenship available for ethnic Hungarians abroad in a referendum on 5 December 2004). It must be remembered that during the communist period only religious and not public activities of churches were tolerated. As 2006 will be an election year, the relation between churches and politics may become a subject of debate again.