Plinio Corręa de Oliveira
Tenderness that Would Draw Tears
Folha de S. Paulo, October 13, 1974
“The two great torments of the Prelate: crucified by the Kremlin and betrayed by the Vatican.” With these words, last September 15 The Sunday Telegraph of London began to transcribe Cardinal Mindszenty's long-awaited memoir. As for the glorious crucifixion of the Hungarian prelate, it is already well known. Has there actually been a Vatican “betrayal” of Cardinal Mindszenty? In the text of his memoirs I note that the Cardinal did not use this harsh and bold word. The headline of The Sunday Telegraph therefore attributes to the cardinal more than he meant. But that does not make the facts he narrates less shocking.
The Vatican's move, the great Cardinal recounts, began in 1971. The terrible drama of détente with communism launched jointly in the West by Nixon and Paul VI, had begun. One of the almost immediate effects of this process of self-destruction of Christendom (for that is what détente objectively is) was that the Vicar of Jesus Christ and the then President of the United States began to press the Hungarian Cardinal on a clear imposition of the Budapest government. The latter desired nothing more ardently than to see Cardinal Mindszenty out of Hungary. And so the Cardinal began to feel he was no longer welcome at the American embassy where he had taken refuge. At the same time, Paul VI sent him an envoy prelate to urge him to leave Hungary.
American Embassy in Budapest, where Cardinal Mindszenty had taken refuge
I do not have space to summarize here the multiple and sinuous proposals the Vatican made to Cardinal Mindszenty. All of them showed the Holy See’s desire to fulfill to the three essential requests of Budapest: 1) that the Cardinal leave Hungary; (2) that outside Hungary he refrain from any action that would displease the Hungarian government; 3) that as a result he allowed himself to be completely effaced as the champion of Catholic reaction against communism.
In compensation he would be able to enjoy, covered with honors, a tepid and pleasant end of life in Rome or elsewhere.
After several coherent and crystal clear refusals Cardinal Mindszenty finally and very reluctantly came to an agreement that seemed to be the maximum he could take without hurting his conscience. He left the American embassy on September 29, 1971. In a great paternal and tragic gesture, on leaving the building he blessed his diocese and homeland. And accompanied by the Apostolic Nuncio to Vienna, he crossed the border with Austria. While passing through Vienna he received the honors of Archbishop Casaroli, who welcomed him with the same smile later displayed when dealing with Fidel Castro. The joy of the Vatican Kissinger was explainable: the first point on the agenda of the Budapest government was met. The Cardinal-Primate no longer bothered the atheistic and egalitarian leaders of present-day Hungary.
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Archbishop Casaroli’s good welcome was only a foretaste of an even better reception by Paul VI. The newspapers of the time widely published about all the honors and attention the Supreme Pontiff gave the crucified Cardinal.
But surprises had begun even before that. Upon arriving in Rome, Cardinal Midszenty learned that the Vatican's unofficial daily on September 28 had already referred to his departure as the removal of a hindrance to good relations between the Church and the Hungarian government. “For me,” the Cardinal comments, “it was the first bitter experience because I understood that the Vatican was not paying any attention to the specific terms I had laid down in Budapest.”
Isn’t it shocking?
Later events confirmed Cardinal Mindszenty’s perplexity.
It had been agreed that after a stay in Rome the Cardinal would reside in the Hungarian Seminary of Vienna. The corollary of this obligation assumed by the Holy See was that the latter obtain the prior agreement of the Austrian government. The Cardinal says that the Vatican does not appear to have taken that step. For, after a three-week stay in Rome, when he sought to leave for Vienna the Austrian ambassador to the Holy See began to raise difficulties. The indomitable Cardinal flattened the obstacles and his departure was decided.
The episode in which Cardinal Mindszenty bid goodbye to Paul VI will remain forever in the history of the Church both by what happened then and by what came later. The Pope of détente showed the hero of anticommunism a tenderness that would draw tears. And then...
And then, the worst happened.
We will deal with this in the next article.