Bishop Miklós Beer on the Roma, refugees and Christianity in Hungary

Miklós Beer is the Bishop of the Diocese of Vác, extending from Nógrád county bordering Slovakia down towards Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county in southeastern Hungary. Some 640,000 Hungarians (or 57% of the population) of this area identify as Roman Catholic in the towns covered by the diocese, which includes regions that are among the poorest in Hungary. Bishop Beer gave a fascinating interview to the HVG weekly magazine, exploring some of the most difficult social topics facing Hungary, notably the integration of the Roma minority and what role Hungary should play in the refugee and migrant crisis.

“We don’t want to give up our comfort–this is what it is all about. Pope Francis is as unpleasant as a mosquito. He is always buzzing in our ears that we ought to care for the poor, if you call yourself Christian. And indeed, his enemies make up all kinds of things about him. If he is talking about the divorced, then he becomes the Antichrist. And what’s this thing about considering homosexuals as humans too?”–said Bishop Beer to HVG’s Dávid Dercsényi.

Bishop Beer is certainly one of the few progressive voices among Hungarian Catholics. But his ideas on how to integrate the Roma and lift them out of poverty and hopelessness are controversial. It starts with a type of segregation, though Bishop Beer refers to this as positive discrimination:

“Those Gypsy kids that are thrown into majority non-Gypsy classrooms have no chance. Teachers are unable to properly handle the situation and they are suffering. I know this first-hand. We need to work separately with Gypsy children, so that we may be able to truly integrate them later. And for this, we need dedicated and passionate teachers. (…) They are lagging so far behind and the difference is so great that they only stand a chance if we work with them individually. (…) It is also a nice dream to have church-going people educated separately as well,  so that they might develop a sense of responsibility for Gypsy people and for the disadvantaged in general. (…) All of the historic Catholic pedagogical systems started like this: Don Bosco, the Joseph Calasanz schools, the Benedictines. They started by focusing on vagabond children. But then they went to the other extreme and they began training and educating the elites. I hope that our schools and educators will have the courage to go in this direction and will establish a special, focused educational system. The existing legal framework allows for this.”

Bishop Miklós Beer. Photo: MTI.

Bishop Miklós Beer. Photo: MTI.

HVG asked the bishop to comment on recent statements from the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, János Lázár, on the role of Hungarian schools in rearing good Christians.

“Politicians define ‘Christian’ differently than a person of faith. We cannot accept that we are to raise good Christians in our schools. We are pleased if they become ones, but this cannot form a pedagogical program,” said Bishop Beer.

The bishop was also asked about the refugee crisis, where he emphasized that one cannot cherry pick among Jesus’ teachings when it comes to reaching out to the marginalized. Yet he also seems to agree with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s decision to erect a border fence on the frontier with Serbia:

“We cannot say ‘sorry, the Gospel is not relevant when it comes to refugees, why don’t they just stay at home.’ That said, even two years later I ask: what would have happened to Hungary, had we not built a fence? In Germany there is panic and they are now faced with what Wilkommenskultur has caused. I think that the Prime Minister’s words are important: the fence is important to make sure that he or she who wants to come, enters through the door and not the window. So now it is time to take this a little more seriously. We must turn to this issue. We had a period of clemency in Hungary. We had time to prepare ourselves. But after Körmend, we can no longer claim that we have to wait. The time has come to deal with the question honestly of what to do with those who are already here and who have asked for asylum. It is insanity to feed these people for years in refugee camps and to keep them in a state of hopelessness. What the pope said is the right solution: every parish should welcome one refugee family.”

Bishop Miklós Beer estimates that Hungarian Catholic communities should welcome, house and care for 5,000 refugee families. That’s one refugee family sponsored by each Catholic parish in Hungary.

“Let’s do away with the illusion that we can stop this migration. What right do we have to say that they do not have the right to the type of life that we lead, purely because they were born in an unfortunate place?”–said Bishop Beer.

He also noted that the way in which the Church reaches out to the disadvantaged in general is a test of its Christianity:

“Our views and opinions of the Gypsies serve as a litmus test of our faith. Is someone says that Gypsies are lazy, that they steal and that they are not human, then they are producing a poor report card of themselves and of the level of their Christian faith.”

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