Viktor Orban vs the Pope: rival strains of Christian thought

Sep 14, 2021 by

by Niall Gooch, UnHerd:

One of my all-time favourite news photos is from 2018. It shows Sir Philip May, husband of former PM Theresa, playing lawn bowls with Melania Trump, watched by a Chelsea pensioner, two schoolboys and a US Secret Service agent. I have no idea of the context, and I don’t really want to know. It just strikes me as a wonderful illustration of the incongruous meetings thrown up by the demands of international relations and diplomacy.

One such meeting occurred this weekend, between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Pope Francis. They did not play bowls; the pontiff was in Budapest for a flying visit to the 52nd Eucharistic Congress, a quadrennial peripatetic Catholic jamboree, and had only a short meeting with Mr Orban. Officially they discussed the environment, family policy and the Hungarian Catholic Church.     

The Holy Father spent about seven hours in the country on Sunday, before moving on to Slovakia for three days. The rather striking disparity has led Vatican-watchers to speculate that this was a subtle rebuke of the Hungarian government, for its loud and persistent hostility to large-scale settlement of migrants within its borders. If the brevity of the papal visit was intended as a snub, Orban gave as good as he got, gifting his visitor a copy of a medieval letter from King Bela IV of Hungary to Pope Innocent IV, requesting help against the invasion of Europe by tribes from the east.

The arguments about Hungary will run and run, not least because the country is treated by both sympathisers and critics as a symbol, rather than a real place with its own complex history and political conditions. Are you for Based Orban, the heroic defender of our way of life against insidious international liberalism, or do you loathe Wicked Viktor, the anti-Soviet dissident tragically gone bad, who foments hatred for minorities and neuters the judiciary to shore up the power of his own cronies?

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