Pope Francis made the short trip from Vatican City to Budapest on Friday, April 28, much to the consternation of the New York Times. Their narrative is simple: By scheduling a papal visit, the Vatican has unwittingly played into the hands of backwater nationalists seeking some sort of holiness by association. In their telling, Pope Francis is the good guy, whereas Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is an “astute political opportunist,” Europe’s “closest ally of Russia,” and the continent’s “most vocal critic of gay rights.”
Ever the opportunist, Orban has apparently sought the papal stamp of approval for years — an admittedly odd move for a Calvinist politician — and has attempted to “paper over the differences between Hungary and the Holy See by emphasizing their areas of agreement.” The Times claims that Orban is “on the opposite side of nearly every important issue to the pontiff.” The same could be said of the New York Times.
In fact, Orban and Pope Francis have more in common than the Times wants to admit, and they hold similar views on Europe’s most prominent political issues: peace and family.
The pope’s visit to Hungary brought him close to the “icy winds of war” of which he spoke in his Easter Vigil homily. Since the outbreak of the war, Pope Francis has called repeatedly for peace in Ukraine, and he scheduled time to meet with Ukrainian refugees living in Hungary.
“Where are creative efforts for peace? Where are they?” he asked during his visit to Budapest.
Eduard Habsburg, Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, sees a commonality here between Hungary and the Vatican. “Orban and the pope, both very clearly over the last month, several times, have asked for an immediate cease-fire and peace negotiations,” he said. (RELATED: Putin’s Nuclear Itch)
With no plans for peace, President Joe Biden has promised that “America will prop up Ukraine—its military, its government’s budget, its economy—for ‘as long as it takes’ to defeat the Russians.” But Orban has been unwilling to escalate the conflict through direct support to Kyiv. He might not be able to make peace, but he can at least avoid making war.
Orban explained his reasoning in his State of the Nation address earlier this year:
How do we overcome the danger of war? We want to simply put an end to it, but we do not have the power to do so — we are not in that league. Therefore, if we want to protect Hungary, if we want a peaceful life for ourselves, we have only one choice: we must stay out of the Russo-Ukrainian war.
Too small to shift the trajectory of international affairs, Hungary remains focused on domestic politics. In the past decade, Orban’s Fidesz party has become widely known for its robust family policy. By supporting and incentivizing marriage and family formation, Hungary has doubled the number of marriages since 2012. Mothers with four or more children are exempt from income tax, and other policies have been implemented to eliminate financial barriers to marriage and family life. Hungary has achieved up to a 40 percent reduction in abortions, too, according to Katalin Novák, the former family minister now serving as the nation’s president.
And on Friday, the pope lauded Hungary’s orientation of policy around the family, saying, “How much better it would be to build a Europe centered on the human person and on its peoples, with effective policies that are pursued attentively in this country.”
Echoing earlier statements, he decried the “ideological colonization” at play in gender theory and abortion, lamenting their hostility to human dignity and the family. Pope Francis condemned ideologies that “would place before the reality of life deceptive concepts of freedom, for example by vaunting as progress the right to abortion, which is always a tragic defeat.”
Pope Francis in Hungary denounces progressives for pushing an “ideological colonisation”, “that would place before the reality of life deceptive concepts of freedom, for example by vaunting as progress the right to abortion, which is always a tragic defeat” #PopeInHungary pic.twitter.com/IZY33YihGe
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) April 28, 2023
Pope Francis’ attention to issues like the environment, immigration, and pastoral care for LGBTQ individuals has given the mainstream media the comfortable expectation that he will be on their side, a protagonist for their causes in the world’s oldest institution. But Pope Francis believes that abortion is a grave evil, that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman, and that mankind’s happiness can only be found in Christ. That put him at odds with the mainstream media and the European Union, and — whether he likes it or not — it places him in the company of the likes of Viktor Orban.
Mary Frances Myler is a postgraduate fellow at the Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government.
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