Budapest, Hungary, Feb 10, 2024 / 17:25 pm
Katalin Novák resigned as president of Hungary on Saturday amid protests over her decision to pardon a man last year who had been convicted of hiding a string of child sexual abuses in a state-run children’s home.
“I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people,” Novák said in a television address to the nation Feb. 10. “I made a mistake.”
A close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Novák, 46, who is a Calvinist Protestant, has been a champion for many in the Catholic Church worldwide because of her strong support for pro-life, pro-family policies. A mother of three, she was the first female president in Hungary’s history and the youngest person to ever hold the office.
Her unexpected resignation deals a major blow to Hungary’s nationalist governing party Fidesz, which since 2010 has ruled with a constitutional majority.
Today I resigned from my office as President of Hungary. Thank you for everything to all my friends in all four corners of the world. Hungary🇭🇺 is a wonderful country with marvelous people, a good partner, an even better friend and a reliable ally. I am glad that in the past… pic.twitter.com/j4SdiezAkK
— Katalin Novák (@KatalinNovak_HU) February 10, 2024
Public outcry over the pardon erupted only in the past week. The man she pardoned in April 2023 was sentenced in 2018 to more than three years in prison after being found guilty of pressuring victims to retract their claims of sexual abuse by the director of the children’s home, who was sentenced to eight years for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016, according to the Associated Press.
In Hungary, the right of individual pardon is exercised by the president of the republic, whose decisions are countersigned by the minister of justice. The presidential pardon is not subject to legal appeal.
“I decided in favor of clemency in April of last year in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him. I made a mistake,” Novák said Saturday. “I apologize to those I have hurt and to any victims who may have felt I am not standing up for them.”
Immediately after the outgoing president’s announcement, the minister of justice, Judit Varga, who countersigned the pardon decision in question, also resigned from the government and announced her withdrawal from public life.
The news came as a thunderclap in Hungary, where Novák and Varga had established themselves over the past two years as emblematic figures in Orbán’s government. But in the long term, this shadow would have discredited the Fidesz party, Novák having built her popularity precisely on the image of moral probity associated with her, and the pro-family and pro-child policies implemented when she was head of the Ministry for Family Affairs between 2020 and 2021.
On Feb. 8, two days before Novák’s resignation, Orbán had announced via his Facebook page that he had submitted a constitutional amendment on behalf of his government, making it impossible to pardon the perpetrator of a crime committed against minors.
In his message titled “No mercy for paedophiles,” he stressed the need to create a situation of exception for all crimes committed against children.
Following Novák’s resignation, a group of demonstrators led by the opposition Momentum party gathered in front of the Sándor Palace, the official residence of the president of the republic in Hungary, to demand further explanations from the government.
With 40 pardons granted in the year 2023, Novak is, according to national media, “the greatest dispenser of pardons” in recent Hungarian history.
Solène Tadié is the Europe Correspondent for the National Catholic Register. She is French-Swiss and grew up in Paris. After graduating from Roma III University with a degree in journalism, she began reporting on Rome and the Vatican for Aleteia. She joined L’Osservatore Romano in 2015, where she successively worked for the French section and the Cultural pages of the Italian daily newspaper. She has also collaborated with several French-speaking Catholic media organizations. Solène has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas.