PM questions the Pope

PRIME Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány has been harshly criticized by opposition parties and the Hungarian Roman Catholic Church for offending religious citizens when complaining to Pope John Paul II about church interference in everyday politics in Hungary.

A demonstration by religious school teachers and students in front of the ministry of education on December 14 was followed by the Church asking children to pray against new budget plans that would cut back on subsidies provided to church schools.

Gyurcsány, who had an audience with the Pope, raised the question of the role of the Church in politics.

Although comments made in Papal audiences are traditionally kept confidential, the Pope is said to have told Gyurcsány he understood the problem.

András Veres told The Budapest Sun, "The Catholic Church does not take part in party politics, but according to the synod [the Church government], it is allowed to give voice to its opinion. But [political] parties might accept and propagate what the Church states."

While Fidesz attacked the PM for his comments to the Pope, a poll by Median this week showed that 66% of opposition party supporters think the Church should not deal with everyday politics. Upon returning to Hungary, Gyurcsány emphasized, in his evaluation of Hungary on the closing session of the Parliament (Monday, December 20), that "the wisdom of the people has exceeded that of the politicians in 2004".