After World War II, agents of the Communist International (Comintern) led by Moscow took power in Central European countries. In Hungary they were the heirs of Bela Kuna and in Poland of the Polish Communist Party. One of the communists' most important tasks was to destroy the Catholic Church. The activity of the Hungarian and Polish churches was directed by prominent figures, primates József Mindszenty (born in 1892 in Mindszent) and Stefan Wyszyński (born in 1901 in Zuzela). They were great priests, spiritual leaders of their nations, statesmen.
József Mindszenty, as a young priest, observed the barbaric actions of the communists during the period of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. He was even arrested by revolutionaries. Father Stefan Wyszyński also understood perfectly the essence of communism, of which he was one of the best experts in the interwar period. Wyszyński was a promoter of social teaching of the Church. In the years 1931-1939, he published more than a hundred items devoted to socio-economic issues. He studied these issues at Catholic universities in Western Europe.
As a priest, József Mindszenty was distinguished by his extraordinary energy in pastoral work. In recognition of his merits, Pope Pius XII granted him the dignity of prelate of His Holiness in 1937. During the war (since March 1944 as bishop of the Diocese of Veszprem), he had a truly Christian attitude. He helped refugees fleeing to Hungary from the German occupier.
During the German occupation, Father Stefan Wyszyński, apart from his pastoral work, took part in secret teaching and during the Warsaw Uprising he was a chaplain of the Home Army unit.
After the death of the Primate, Cardinal Justinian Seredi, Józef Mindszenty was appointed by Pope Pius XII on October 2, 1945, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Esztergom and, as such, Primate of Hungary. Soon he became a cardinal. During his enthronement sermon, on October 7, 1945, he said: “I want to be a good shepherd who, if necessary, will give his life for his flock, for his Church and for his Homeland”.
Primate of Hungary, Cardinal József Mindszenty
Stefan Wyszyński was appointed by Pope Pius XII, in March 1946 the bishop of the Lublin diocese. After the mysterious death of the Primate, Cardinal August Hlond, he was appointed by the Pope as Archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw and thus took up the office of the Primate of Poland.
In Hungary, like in Czechoslovakia, communist terror was the most cruel of the countries subordinated to the Soviet Union. The communist authorities outlawed all Catholic associations, nationalized Catholic schools, hospitals and other charitable works run by the Church, limited the possibility of public worship (pilgrimages, processions). In the first years of communism, several hundred clergy were sentenced in Hungary, including a long-term prison. There were also cases of the death penalty. Over 20 male orders and 40 female congregations were liquidated. By 1956, there were 4.5 thousand monks in the communist camps.
In 1947 József Mindszenty was appointed a cardinal. On 15 August this year he announced the organization of a celebration in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The inauguration of the celebration took place in Esztergom with the participation of 600 thousand faithful. In total, almost 5 million people took part in the pilgrimage of the Marian Year. The liquidation or imprisonment of the Primate of Hungary was decided by the Soviet occupiers and Hungarian communists led by "little Stalin" Matyas Rakosi, on the day the Primate's nomination was announced. Apart from the propaganda action directed against the cardinal, there were also agential actions. The communists tried to divide the Hungarian episcopate. It was unsuccessful. Until the arrest of the cardinal, the episcopate maintained unity, which was the result of the Primate's strong personality and the support he received from Pope Pius XII. Despite the efforts of the authorities, a group of so-called progressive Catholics remained on the margins of the Church's life.
The arrest of Cardinal Mindszenty was preceded by a propaganda action, preparing the planned showcase process. In the press and radio, at party meetings and in parliament, the Primate was accused of reactionism and unwillingness to reach an agreement with the new authorities. On December 16, 1948 he met with bishops. He knew it was a farewell meeting. In a communiqué he gave reasons for the impossibility of reaching a compromise with the communists. He asked the bishops not to sign anything after his arrest. Soon, officers of the State Security Office (Államvédelmi Hatóság) entered the Primate's headquarters and conducted a search. He was arrested on 26 December, the day of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Despite the personal search, the image of Christ in a thorny crown miraculously stayed with him until the end of the his prison days.
The Primate Mindszenty as a defendant in court.
The Primate was subjected to brutal torture - constant beating with, drugs, hot metal, etc. Under the influence of torture he signed a fabricated testimony, adding letters c.f. under his name - coactus feci (signed under duress). A five-day show trial of the "Vatican spy" began on February 3, 1949. He was accused of over 40 crimes. The prosecutor demanded the death penalty. Eventually, Cardinal Mindszenty was sentenced to life imprisonment and co-defendants were also sentenced to life or long-term imprisonment. During the trial and after the sentence was announced, the Hungarian Primate was completely isolated from the outside world. Pope Pius XII excommunicated all those who took part in the preparation of the trial and the conviction of the cardinal. It was not until two years later that Cardinal Mindszenty was allowed to celebrate Mass in his cell. During this time, his mother was allowed to visit him.
In Poland, the announcement of repressions against the Church was the breaking of the concordat by the communist authorities in 1945. Organizations of lay Catholics were liquidated, the "Caritas" organization dealing with the Church's mercy action was taken away from the Church. The "Caritas" organization was deprived of kindergartens, common rooms, hospitals, food points of the population. Hundreds of priests and monks were imprisoned. The episcopate, wanting to reduce the repressive actions of atheistic authorities, signed the Church-State Agreement in 1950. According to Moscow's scenario, such agreements were also concluded in other countries of the Soviet bloc. In Hungary (against the will of Primate Mindszenty) the documents were signed by representatives of the Episcopate. On the part of Polish bishops it was not an expression of collaboration but an act of good will. The agreement concluded with the communists was badly received by the Holy See. However, bishops, in order not to create pretexts for the authorities to attack, even decided to sign the Moscow-inspired Stockholm Appeal in 1951 and announced a declaration on the occasion of the Second World Congress of Peace Defenders. Both these initiatives served the propaganda purposes of the Soviet Union. The flexible policy of the Episcopate did not mean that the authorities abandoned their activities aimed at the Church. Arrests of priests continued. In 1951, the Security Office arrested Bishop of Kielce, Czesław Kaczmarek. The bishop was subjected to inhumane investigation methods. After two years the show trial began. The communist court sentenced Bishop Kaczmarek to 12 years in prison.
Repressions against the Church and the issuing of a decree by the authorities granting the state the right to approve each bishop's nomination led to the Bishop's reaction. In their memorial of May 8, 1953, the bishops wrote, among other things, "We will follow the voice of the apostolic, our vocation and our priestly conscience, walking with inner peace and awareness that we have not given the slightest reason to persecute, that suffering becomes our part, not for anything else, but for the cause of Christ and the Church of Christ. We are not allowed to place God's things on the emperor's altar. Non possumus! (We cannot)". On 26 August 1953, in a sermon delivered at Jasna Góra, the Primate of Wyszyński (in January 1953 he became a cardinal) said: "The Catholic spirit of Poland is watched over by Mary, whom the good God has put here for us.”
Polish Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński
On 26 September 1953 (only three days after the announcement of the sentence in the trial of Bishop Kaczmarek) Cardinal Wyszyński was arrested and imprisoned. A few hours later Bishop Antoni Baraniak was arrested. The aim of the state authorities was to obtain information from the bishop that would be used in the investigation against the Primate. More than 30 officers of the Ministry of Public Security - by means of torture - did everything to break the bishop. Thanks to the heroic attitude of Bishop Baraniak, the trial of the Primate was probably abandoned.
Wyszyński stayed in several places of internment. The communist authorities wanted to force the Primate to resign from his office. The next aim was to break the unity of the Episcopate, to gain favourable bishops and to break up the ranks of the clergy by creating a movement of "patriotic priests". The firm attitude of Primate Wyszyński and the majority of the hierarchy of priests made this plan impossible.
During his imprisonment, the Primate wrote the text of Jasna Góra Vows, which were a program of moral preparation of the nation for the Millennium of Baptism of Poland falling in 1956. He also edited the Jasna Gora Vows of the Nation, which in his absence were presented by Bishop Michał Klepacz, acting President of the Episcopal Conference. On October 28, 1956, after the government representatives had promised to restore fundamental rights to the Church and to make good the wrongs of the Primate of Poland, at the request of the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland, he returned to Warsaw to fulfil his church functions.
Cardinal Wyszyński's release took place as a result of political changes in Poland after Stalin's death, mass protests of the inhabitants of Poznan in June 1956 and changes in the party leadership in October this year. During his imprisonment, the Primate of Poland prepared a program of religious celebrations - the Great Novena. The result was also "Prison records".
In May 1956 there were minor changes in relations between the state and the Catholic Church in Hungary. The government released Archbishop József Grösz from his place of internment, who, in spite of his concessionary attitude, was placed in June 1951 in a place of retreat. The communists restored him to some of his previous church functions.
As a result of the independence uprising in Budapest, the Hungarian Primate József Mindszenty left the communist prison on 31 October 1956.
Dr Krzysztof Kawęcki - political scientist, historian, publicist.