Thursday, 5 May 2011


May 6th is the anniversary of the death of one of our great contemporary heroes, Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, Primate of Hungary and snubbed, at one time by Rome after enduring endless torture at the hands of the communists.

No school assembly was complete without prayers for this wonderful Cardinal who stayed true to the teachings of Christ but, after unspeakable torture in jail, cracked and signed a confession.

Cardinal Mindszenty in the late 40s was Archbishop of Esztergom in Hungary and it was his indomitable spirit and stance against Red persecution of the Church that led to his arrest on 27th December 1948.
There is no doubt that the Communist Government saw him as a figurehead that had to be broken. Within days of his incarceration the torture began. It took them 39 days to physically and mentally wreck this brave man.
They commenced with beatings in his cell with a group of male and female onlookers who indulged in filthy talk and jeered him in his agonies....
Picture of a broken man - and a saint!

"The major leading, he was taken back to his cell, his prison clothes were torn from his body and he was stood naked in the middle of the room. Then they left him alone. Later a big, stocky police officer arrived. "I was in the Resistance" he said as he came in. With these words he went up to the prisoner and kicked him as hard as he could with his boot. Both men fell against the wall. "This is the happiest moment of my life" said the ex-partisan with a devilish laugh, and then the Major came back and sent him away. 
The Major continued the process of preparing the prisoner to make his confession. He pulled out a rubber truncheon, held the Primate who was still dizzy from his fall onto the floor and began to beat him starting at the soles of his feet and moving up to his head.
The moaning of his victim just drew scornful laughter from the assistant-torturers, men and women, grouped in the doorway"

The tortures continued and, day by day, night by night extra hardships were added. Sleep deprivation, continuous glaring lights, loud noise akin to tinnitus at mega high volume, more beatings, mind altering sdrugs. All  of these were inflicted on the brave Primate.

Alec Guiness as 'The Prisoner'
In later years, Alec Guiness was to take the lead role playing (ostensibly) Cardinal Mindszenty in a great film called 'The Prisoner' - not to be confused with the Patrick McGoohan television series. The link to a trailer of the film is below:-

As the days and nights merged into one long living nightmare the Archbishop afterwards stated:
"In the nightly questionings I was no longer able to argue cogently, I no longer refuted the obvious lies and falsifications..."

Finally, the inevitable happened and the poor man, his mind in shreds and his body battered and bruised, signed the trumped up confession and the stage was set for his show trial. Before his trial he was carefully washed, shaved and groomed so that the terrible effects of his tortures would be less evident. He was then dressed in a new black suit and a Bishop's ring placed on his finger. To the outside world he would look like a normal man in the docks except that, when the time came he was in such a parlous mental state that he sat in the dock 'like a frightened schoolboy'.
After three days of a 'legal circus' he was found guilty and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in penal servitude (escaping the planned death penalty). He rotted in prison ntil, in the course of the 1956 uprising he was freed and took refuge in the American Embassy in Budapest, where he was to spend the next 15 years.
The Pope at the time, Pope Pius XII had been active during the early days of his imprisonment and trial, in attempting to secure his release or soften the penalties he was likely to face. The Holy Father even made an impassioned plea on the Primate's behalf to the crowds in St Peter's Square - all to no avail.

However, the political climate was changing and, during the time of Pope Paul VI an attempt was made to strike rapprochement in Hungary but this meant both dismissing and snubbing the now Cardinal Mindszenty, a really cruel blow after all he had suffered. Just one year before the Cardinal died in lonely exile, the Vatican issued the following communique:-

" On 5 February 1974 Pope Paul VI declared the 
archdiocese of Esztergom vacant and -- in agreement with the Hungarian
government -- ordered a limited reshuffle in the top hierarchy
of the Hungarian Catholic Church. This move entailed the 
dismissal of Cardinal Mindszenty as archbishop of Esztergom and
primate of Hungary. After leaving Hungary in September 1971
the cardinal was allowed by the Holy See to remain the de jure
head of the archdiocese, and was listed in the Annuario 
Ponti-ficio as fuori sede (absent from his see). The government of
the archdiocese of Esztergom has been entrusted to Bishop Laszlo
Lekai, a titular bishop and apostolic administrator of the 
diocese of Veszprem".

It is hard to reconcile the thought processes that had led the Pope to act in such an apparently callous manner and such treatment must have hit the Cardinal hard.
He accepted all that Rome had negotiated and finally, in 1971 he was allowed to leave the country and move to Vienna, Austria where he died in 1975.

In my mind one of our greatest protomartrys of the last 100 years.


  1. It's good to have this story retold, "lest we forget".

    Thank you for reminding me. God bless.

  2. I never liked Paul VI and this is one of the reasons why.

  3. I remember reading about him during and the time he was imprisoned, tortured and the "kangaroo trial" afterwards, but since I was so young was not aware of Pope Paul the Vi and his subsequent actions.

    I wonder if Pope Benedict will take up his cause for Beatification. It's a shame the way he was treated by the Church. At least an explanation or apology should be made.

  4. His book entitled "The Mother" is absolutely beautiful. It is out of print and very hard to find, but well worth the search. Cardinal Mindszenty, pray for us.

  5. An addendum to my earlier comment: After a brief search, I discovered that "The Mother" is back in print and available from Our Lady of Victory at
    It is a veritable gem.