Marymount University and Réka Szemerkényi — The former ambassador has no place at a Catholic institution

One would be hard pressed to find a western government more openly and intrinsically opposed to the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church than that of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. When we speak about Catholic social teachings, we refer to seven key principles, fundamentally dating back to Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical of 1891, entitled On the Condition of Labour (Rerum Novarum) and further developed in the twentieth century, thanks to initiatives like the Catholic workers’ movement or Liberation Theology, among others. The principles of Catholic social teaching include what is often referred to as the “preferential option for the poor,” solidarity, the dignity of workers, a charter or rights and responsibilities for all in society, a life lived within a supportive community and care for the environment and the natural world.

The preferential option for the poor, in particular, as espoused by Superior General of the Jesuits, Father Pedro Arrupe, in 1968, calls on us to embrace those living on the margins, the vulnerable and the powerless in our society. “To be just, is not enough to refrain from injustice. Once must go further and refuse to play its game, substituting love for self interest as the driving force of society,” wrote Fr. Arrupe.

The game played by Hungary’s government is one of embedded and cynical injustice so intrinsically opposed to every social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and especially the principles espoused by Pope Francis, that we cannot imagine one of the most high-ranking representatives of this government giving a commencement address at a Roman Catholic institution. Yet this is precisely what will happen this weekend at Marymount University, where former Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi, has been invited to speak.

Ms. Szemerkényi, who has already served in an earlier Orbán government as State Secretary for Foreign Policy, unflinchingly represented the interests of a regime that objectified the poor and the marginalized in the cruelest way imaginable. Ms. Szemerkényi represented, without batting an eye, a government that:

  • Criminalized the homeless and homelessness, forcibly and brutally removing them from public sight;
  • Launched a national billboard campaign at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, labeling all refugees and migrants as criminals and terrorists bent on destroying Hungary and Hungarian culture;
  • Systematically desensitized Hungarian society to the plight and suffering of others through an anti-immigrant referendum, followed by an anti-immigrant “national consultation,” which explicitly depicted men, women and children fleeing Syria and other war-torn lands as subhuman;
  • Spread alarm among the poorest and most vulnerable Roma communities in Hungary that accepting refugees from the Middle East would negatively impact the government’s ability to offer welfare payments and programs to Hungarian citizens. This was among the most cynical move yet, in that it was meant to also reinforce negative stereotypes in the majority population about the Roma.
  • Maintains political power through fear (fear of losing one’s livelihood and fear of repercussions for one’s family) in a way that is simply unimaginable in the United States.
  • The fact that a recent high-ranking representative of a regime that is openly attacking academic freedom and is about to shut down Central European University in Budapest is invited to give the commencement address at a Catholic university sends a message of a distinct lack of solidarity with professors, academics and students overseas who may soon see their institution shuttered.

Ms. Szemerkényi has made a conscious decision to loyally represent a regime that is intrinsically at odds with Catholic social teaching and, indeed, at odds with social justice of every kind. Had she found what she was asked to defend and represent reprehensible or objectionable, she could have resigned. We all make decisions in life. Ms. Szemerkényi chose to promulgate the most inhumane and unjust regime in the western world. As such, she has no place serving as a model or inspiration for students and new graduates at a Roman Catholic university. Ms. Szemerkényi’s example is not one that anyone who respects the dignity of human life can follow.

11 Comments

  1. Catholic teaching does not say that a country should cede its sovereignty to foreign imperialists and jump when EU coughs. The Catholic teaching also does not state that Hungary is responsible to take in criminals, e.g. terrorists, rapists, welfare cheaters, robbers and murderers that is the result of bad EU laws. Not all refugees/migrants belong in the criminal categories, but difficult to differentiate.

    Hungarian government is finally helping its citizens to be able to make a livable wage. It is trying to help young families to buy a home. It tries to take care of all its citizens which is not easy after 50 years of Russian dictatorship for any bankrupt country. That agrees with Catholic teachings. Hungary is not perfect yet but they are working on the problems.

    Hungary has also spent millions helping the migrant/refugee situation in donations. Hungary was invaded by 400,000 migrants/refugees and all the EU and Canadian media did was criticize, but no help was forthcoming.

    The rich cats of EU want to use the old eastern block countries as a dumping ground. That does not agree with Catholic teachings. So, until the Western EU countries achieved “utopia” naive pretending to be reporters should just keep their silly ideas to themselves.

  2. As a reality check talk to Canadians off the record and you will hear many things that will surprise you.

    These are some of the rumblings that you hear:

    1. Special prayer rooms put aside for Muslim students when class rooms are over crowded, paid for by public money, and same courtesy not extended to other religions.
    2. Closing of swimming pools of Sundays so Muslim women could go swimming, while native Canadians who have Sundays off cannot use those facilities supported by public funds.
    3. A group of Muslims want separate class rooms and school buses for girls and boys.
    4. Public money used to put in a sink for people to wash their feet at airports.
    5. The refugees are too slow to integrate and a large percentage are still unemployed, now supported by the provinces.
    6. People walking across from the US claiming asylum in Canada and they are allowed to stay. No one can say that the US is not a safe country.
    The cost of getting to the US is enormous and many Canadians could not afford the airfare.
    7. The federal government spent millions on refugees and now migrants (who walk across our unprotected borders) to add to the costs. We have thousands of Canadians living on the streets (you blamed Hungary for that but forgot to say Canada has the same problem).
    8. Women cannot attend English classes because the government does not pay for babysitting. Why can the husbands not look after the children?
    9. Make Ramadan a national holiday at the employers and taxpayers expense.
    10. The introduction of Sharia law. This law should be used instead of the Charter of Rights and Freedom. I wonder if stoning people would be legal under this law.

    Many Canadians wonder why they should be the ones to integrate instead of the migrants/refugees. Many grandfathers and great grandfathers and Canadian fathers gave their lives in wars to create a nation that they could be proud of.

    I could go on and on. Canadians are too polite to say what is on their mind. Most people also do not wish to be called xenophobic, and that is the liberals media’s answer for those that do not agree with their point of view.

    Canada is also a wealthier nation with a large territory than most east European nations, therefore it can accommodate more people.

    Instead of criticizing a foreign nation when you are not familiar with its history, try to improve conditions in your own neighborhood.

    Average Canadians are kind people who want to help where ever they can and we all agree on that point.

  3. Bendeguz79 says:

    In case Frau Merkel really wanted to help those poor suffering Syrians, just what in the world did she not take any attempt to stop the carnage, and send some of that stockpile of money to help them return home and rebuild their life, their homes, and their country?
    That would have been the only humane way to help them. But nobody even want to hear about that. Why not ? Germany is one of the major arms manufacture and supplier in the world today.

  4. To the Editor:
    You can post my comments or not. I did not make thing up, those are the things Canadians are saying behind closed doors.

    It is always better to know the mood of a nation so preventative measures could be taken or appropriate explanation given. No one was more surprised than me about the comments I heard.

    We all take it for granted that if people cannot express their view on our news papers, everything will go away. Unfortunately, sometimes these things can end up in horrible tragedies such as the Muslim killing in Quebec.

    So I would think about silencing people who think they have a valid point even if it is not to your liking. Just read some comments on the net, they would greatly disappoint everyone.

    There was a protest in Emerson and that may spread.

    That would not be good for our country.

  5. Reka Szemerkenyi has good reason to feel ashamed. At least someone like former Ambassador Jeszenszky has spoken out, if belatedly. But most Hungarian diplomats are just like Szemerkenyi. They will serve their masters, not think twice about the consequences and the morality of it all and then when the time is right, they will do whatever they can to serve whatever government or political system replaces the current dictatorship. They will cleverly save their own skins.

  6. Martaburka: “Ramadan” is a 30-day fast for Muslims. The feast, Idl Fitr, is one day. I suppose, given the number of Muslims in the political district it could or could not be a holiday.
    Re prayer rooms–given prayer times, most likely students would only need to say one prayer during the school day–the noon prayer–the room can easily be used for other activities during the rest of the day. Students could use the gym for example as it usually does not contain furniture.
    The other things you mention I cannot speak to as all the circumstances are not spelled out. And, I assure you, feet can be ritually cleaned using regular sinks.

  7. Bendeguz79 says:

    Oh come on Lanark.
    You may not like the present regime, or even Ms. Szemerkenyi, but I really doubt that “dictatorship” remark of yours.

  8. Albrecht Neumerker says:

    The hungarian regime is like a cancer on the body of western civilisation and though has no place in the western world. We should take this fact seriously if we want to live in a free society even in the future.

  9. Bendeguz79 says:

    Herr Neumerker;
    Cancer is sure deadly, do you suggest that Hungary will also destroy the “western world” (or the EU) as sure as cancer does kill its host?

  10. Christopher Adam’s poignant reminder of the affinity fraud perpetrated upon true believers by the Orbán regime’s diplomatic representatives is well worth reading. Bálint Ódor, Orbán’s Canadian merchandiser is of the same ilk. The division of labor between the two ambassadors was well thought out. Szemerkényi concentrated her attention on the Catholics, Ódor prefers to swindle the victims of the holocaust. (For an illustration of the latter, please turn to my piece on Orbán and the Jews, on these pages.)

  11. Bendeguz79 says:

    Andras B.Gollner;
    I’d love to learn some facts about ‘Orban and the Jews’.
    But, am still waiting the evidence of your creatures in the hills of Buda overlooking that bridge.

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