No ban on Anglicans in Hungary

Budapest, Hungary - A story in the Church of England newspaper written by George Conger that Hungary has banned the Anglican Church in its country seriously distorts the facts.

Virtueonline spoke with the Hungarian embassy officials in Washington, DC, today, who said that churches in their country are only being asked to re-register; they are not being banned. "Hungary's constitution supports religious freedom. Anybody can create a church and practice their faith all they are being asked to do is to register it with the state in order to be eligible for the benefits provided by the Act," an Embassy spokesman told VOL.

A statement VOL received from the embassy said that on July 11 the Hungarian parliament adopted the Act on the Right to Freedom of Conscience and Religion, and on the legal Status of Churches, Religious Denominations and Religious Communities.

The Act, which becomes effective January 2012, guarantees the right to freedom of conscience and religion across a broad range, at both individual and community levels. It sees churches as having an outstandingly important role as bearers of a society's values, and as factors in creating communities. Based on the new Fundamental Law, Hungary continues to guarantee the separation of Church and State - and in relation to this the autonomy of churches - while prescribing cooperation in pursuit of common goals.

According to the legislative provisions, Parliament, to date, recognizes 14 churches under that were allowed to retain their registration. These are the Catholic church in Hungary; the Hungarian Reformed Church; the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Hungary; select Jewish denominations; the Buda Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church; the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople - the Orthodox Exarchate in Hungary; the Bulgarian Orthodox Church; the Romanian Orthodox Diocese in Hungary; the Hungarian Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church; the Hungarian Diocese of the Unitarian Church in Hungary; the Baptist Union of Hungary; and the Faith Church, Hungary.

When VOL questioned why Anglicans and other groups that might be considered cults were not included we were told, "Other organizations can be included in the future. It is simply a matter of re-registration. There is a process now, but it is not exclusionary."

"A two-thirds majority in Parliament will be required for the registration as a church. A request for registration can be submitted if the association in question carries out primarily religious activities; has teachings centered on faith and associated rites; has operated for at least 20 years and does not represent a risk to national security.

"The church must also demonstrate a membership of over one thousand with names, addresses, and ID numbers was dropped from the final bill. There is complete freedom to worship it is only an issue of re-registration," said the spokesman.

When VOL contacted Bishop Pierre Whalon of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, he expressed concern at the new Act, but acknowledged the law was amended at the last minute and changes made that were not shown to the churches, and confusion reigns.

"I await further details as to the actual impact on the congregation there, which would affect our own plans to start ministry in that country. My read is that it will not hold up, the EU Court will reverse it. However, that doesn't mean the Fidesz Party won't try again.

"The church must have been approved before 1992. St Margaret's (the only Anglican church in Hungary so far) were approved in 1995, but could not have been approved under Communist rule because of the close connection between the Crown, the Church, and the State. However, we can demonstrate a presence in Hungary going back to at least the 1800s."

St. Margaret's Anglican Church in Budapest remains open with a new priest, who is an American, Frank Hegedus, Whalon told VOL.