Hungarian President Resigns

( – Hungary’s conservative leader has dramatically resigned in a scandal over presidential pardons. Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, pardoned 25 criminals last year to commemorate Pope Francis’s visit to the country. Then it turned out one of them had been linked to a notorious child abuse case.

Katalin Novak was Hungary’s first woman president and, elected at 44 years old, the youngest person ever to hold the job. A former National Assembly member for the ruling Fidesz party, she had also served as the Minister for Family Affairs. In that position, she promoted traditional family values, as part of Fidesz’s strongly conservative program. Because Fidesz is also an openly Christian party, when Pope Francis visited Hungary last year Novak headed up the government’s move to pardon 25 prison inmates in honor of the Catholic leader’s calls for clemency.

Unfortunately for Novak, one of those on the list of pardons was Endre Konya, the former deputy director of an orphanage. In 2019, Konya was jailed after being convicted of covering up long-running child sexual abuse by the orphanage’s director. He was released after being pardoned by Novak — and when the public realized who she’d pardoned there was uproar.

Novak was likely persuaded to pardon Konya by Zoltan Balog, a member of the president’s advisory board. Balog is also a bishop in the Hungarian Reformed Church and a former Fidesz minister. Earlier in Novak’s career he was her political mentor. Sources inside Fidesz say that when the scandal erupted, both Novak and Orban’s offices had demanded an explanation from Balog, who replied that church leaders wanted Konya pardoned.

Faced with demands to quit from opposition politicians, Novak announced her resignation on February 10. The next day, Justice Minister Judit Varga also resigned. Novak and Varga were the two highest-profile women in Hungary’s government, and they were also key allies of Orban. Their resignations could weaken the prime minister’s position as he faces ongoing arguments with the European Union.

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