Monday, July 28, 2014

Pastoral Letter of Cardinal Seredi 29 June 1944

The origins of the June Pastoral Letter, referred to in ADSS 10.265,  lie in the increasing awareness among the Hungarian bishops as to the true nature of the deportation of the Hungarian Jews from May 1944.  More and more accounts of bestial and inhumane treatment of Jews from outside Hungary were now replicated from within Hungary.  The Catholic bishops could no longer avoid the reality of anti-Jewish persecution.  Many of them had acquiesced or tacitly supported the raft of anti-Jewish legislation passed in Hungary since 1938 even though some had raised some protest over the treatment of converted Jews. 

Sometime in June 1944 the document known as “The Auschwitz Protocol” arrived in Budapest via Switzerland and a copy was passed on to the Regent, Admiral Miklos Horthy.  The Regent passed on the information to Seredi.  The Primate had been under pressure from a number of bishops, especially Vilmos Apor and Endre Hamvas.  In addition the Cardinal was also under growing pressure from the Vatican, via Angelo Rotta, the nuncio, to act in a decisive and uncompromising statement condemning the persecution and deportation of the Jews.

The letter, “Successor to the Apostles” was distributed to the dioceses of Hungary, but government agents seized the 700 copies intended for the Archdiocese of Esztergom. The Minister of Justice, Istvan Antal, approached Seredi pleading with him to cancel the letter.  Seredi agreed to do so on condition that the Prime Minister, Dome Sztojay, write to him assuring him that the government would suspend deportations and make the “Jewish Question” a purely internal Hungarian issue.  Upon receipt of Sztojay’s letter on 8 July, Seredi ordered the pastoral letter be followed by a further pronouncement on 10 July (follows this text).

It would highly unlikely that the nuncio, Angelo Rotta, would not have passed on a copy of the letters to the Vatican.

Pastoral Letter of Cardinal Primate Justinian Seredi
on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Hungary,
29 June 1944.

"The successors of the Apostles, that is, the visible head of the Church and all other bishops are the promoters and guardians of God's unwritten, natural, laws and of his written, revealed, laws, especially the Ten Commandments. In this country, all through the thousand years of its history, the Church leaders have always protested whenever someone tried to violate those divine laws, and defended the poor, the defenceless and the victims of persecutions. In these fateful times we, the members of the Episcopate, fulfil our duty when in the name of God we protest against the immoral way in which this war is being conducted. In a war which claims to be just, the killing of defenceless civilians, the bombardment of women and children from low-flying aircraft, the maiming of children through explosive toys dropped from the air, are all means of destruction which cannot be condoned, because they are against Christian moral laws.

"Alas, we also have to point out that whilst in this terrible world conflict we are most in need of God's help and, therefore, should avoid every word and deed which could draw God's wrath upon our nation. We have to admit with deep regret that in Christian Hungary successive measures are being taken which violate God's laws. We do not have to go into details of these measures, because you are very much aware of them yourselves... You know that many of your fellow-citizens — among those who share our faith — are being deprived of all human rights only because of their racial origin. Innocent individuals, none of whose guilt has been established by legal procedure, are subjected to humiliation and persecution. You would understand this thoroughly only if you yourselves were subjected to it.

"We, your bishops, always did and always will, keep aloof from party politics and the pursuit of personal gain. We cannot deny that some members of the Jewish community have had a subversive and destructive influence on the Hungarian economic, social and moral life, and fellow Jews made no protest against it. We do not doubt that the Jewish question has to be solved legally and justly. Therefore, we do not object to, but approve of, any necessary and justifiable reforms of the economic structures, which need to be undertaken for the abuses to be remedied. But it would be culpably defaulting on our moral and pastoral obligations if we failed to defend justice and to protect our citizens and our faithful from being abused solely on the ground of their racial origin. Therefore, during the past months we have incessantly tried by the spoken word and in writing to seek justice and to obtain the abolition of the offensive measures being taken against our fellow ­citizens.

"We are grateful for having been successful now and then in obtaining small concessions, but we have to state with sorrow and deep anguish that we did not get what we most insistently asked for: the suspension of the illegal deprivations and deportations. Confident in the Christian, Hungarian and humanitarian sentiments of the members of the Government, we waited patiently, and did not want to give up hope and refused until now to launch an official protest.

"Alas we see that all our efforts and discussions are ineffective on the most important issues. We, therefore, jointly raise our protesting voice and request the authorities to be conscious of their responsibilities before God and our nation, to respect divine law and remedy injustices immediately. The illegal measures they are making not only cause instability and divide the nation at the time of great tension, national calamity and struggle for survival, but turn public opinion of the Christian world against us and — what is most important — bring God's wrath upon us.

"As always we place our confidence in God and ask you, dear faithful people, to pray and act with us to obtain the triumph of Justice and of Christian love. Beware of taking on yourselves the fearful responsibility before God and mankind by approving of, or helping, the execution of the objectionable measures undertaken by the Government. Do not forget that you cannot serve your country's cause by condoning injustice. Pray and work for all our fellow­ citizens and especially for our Catholic brethren, for our Church and for our beloved country."

In the name of the Hungarian Episcopate
+ Justinian Serédi
Cardinal, Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom

Budapest, 29 June 1944.

It is worth noting that while the tone of the letter demands action to stop the deportations, there is an underlying acceptance of the anti-Jewish laws as morally and legally valid.  

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