State Church Office Established by the Communist Dictatorship Seventy Years Ago to Oppress Priests

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  • 2021. September 15.

In the new parliamentary system after 1945 the Hungarian Communist Party strived for total power by any means from the very beginning. Supported by Moscow, communists first removed their political opponents from public life applying Mátyás Rákosi’s infamous salami slicing tactics, which was followed by establishing a totalitarian dictatorship that penetrated each and every segment of life from 1948 on. They tried to eliminate remaining isles of opposition by intimidation on a large social scale, and ruthlessly fighting against “class enemies”. Besides the ideological differences, the regime looked at historic churches as the main enemies of the communist dictatorship due to their traditions, organised nature and social embeddedness. In order to keep priests and vicars “under control”, the State Church Office (ÁEH) was established on 18 May 1951, which functioned as the extended arm of the regime in handling the relationship between the state and the churches. We asked Attila Viktor Soós, professor at Pázmány Péter Catholic University and member of the Committee of National Remembrance about the significance of ÁEH and its role in the party state.

Viktor Soós

Attila Viktor Soós told us that Act I 1950 on the establishment of the State Church Office was passed by the Assembly on 18 May 1951. It must be noted that at this point the Assembly was not a real parliament but worked as a mere voting robot for the Hungarian Working People’s Party. The power and administrative measures to break the churches can be detected since 1945. By taking church estates in 1845, they wanted to break the economic independence of churches – especially the Roman Catholic Church. In 1946 they eliminated the majority of church-related civic associations for fabricated reasons. The nationalisation of schools in 1948 resulted in the obstruction of religious education. From 1945 on there were show trials against members of the clergy, which were extended to high-ranking leaders starting in 1948, and the peak point was cardinal József Mindeszenty’s show trial in 1949, who was the head of the Catholic Church in Hungary at the time. The list goes on with the legislative decree 34 in 1950 on the dissolution of religious orders, which was executed unexpectedly and particularly ruthlessly. In the summer of 1950 the relocation of monks started from the western (Austrian) and southern (Yugoslavian) frontiers. In August 1950 the Catholic Church was forced to sign an agreement inspired by the state. They intended to make a hit on the traditional social influence of churches by eliminating the majority of church schools and social institutions, and the aim of the so-called priests’ peace movement, i. e. a “peace priesthood” loyal to the party state and cooperative in every respect was meant to intensify the opposition within the churches and among their leaders. Therefore, the toughest measure of the Rákosi regime (besides 1948) took place in 1950.


The Church State Office and the Ministry of Interior (BM) had a close relationship from the beginning. It is most likely that BM made a personal file on each bishop, including Catholic as well as Protestant ones. It is recorded that representatives of ÁEH provided information on a regular basis, and they wrote reports about clerical individuals monitored and surveilled by BM. This relationship prevailed after 1956. For example, interior minister András Benkei and József Prantner who was the head of ÁEH from 1961 to 1971 established the so-called “Világosság” [Lucidity] network as part of an over operation. Four employees of the Ministry of Interior were placed in the State Church Office and one was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with conspirative assignments. The employees of the Ministry of Interior would meet those – often blackmailed, intimidated – members of the clergy they wished to recruit in a flat of “Világosság” [Lucidity], which had its cover story. Although “Világosság” [Lucidity] was officially eliminated in 1971, conspiracy survived, which is proved by the existence of the flat under the alias “Ék” [Wedge]. There were secret meetings with clerical people on this location until the mid-80s. The close ties of the office with the ministry is also demonstrated by the fact that before 1956 12% of the personnel was linked to state security. Although in different proportions, but this kind of connection remained after 1956. One example: István Kovács, Győr-Sopron county representative of ÁEH between 1966 and 1976 also did the tasks of the local resident of state security as a “SZT” (covert) officer. Although times changed after 1956 in a lot of respects as opposed to the Rákosi era, in the history of ÁEH 1956 was not a milestone, as the Kádár era did not bring any significant changes. As a result of the revolution, the State Church Office was integrated into the Ministry of Education, where it worked as a department, but became an independent institution again in the summer of 1959, which also underlines its continuity. In the 1960s the climate changed, as the Kádár regime had to make itself accepted on the international scene in the name of “consolidation”. Therefore, the State Church Office was set to serve that purpose, using the organisation to reach the 1964 Hungary–Vatican partial agreement.


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Soós Viktor Attila