Lawsuits and chaos paralyze the Hungarian Reformed Church in America

Two years ago the First Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix filed a lawsuit against the Hungarian Reformed Church in America (HRCA) in Maricopa County Superior Courts, Arizona. According to publicly available information the defendants also include Attila Veres, Katalin Veres and the Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix.  Now the legal battle has spilled over to California. The First Hungarian Reformed Church in Phoenix recently filed a subpoena at the Orange County Superior Court against Attila Imre Szenczi Molnar.  (Read our previous article about the conflict at the Phoenix Church)

Covid-19 and ongoing legal battles have paralyzed HRCA and for all practical purposes it is not a functioning entity anymore.

As one example, last year after 15 years of service, Rev. Gábor Magyari-Köpe left the Free Magyar Reformed Church of San Francisco and Vicinity.  After lengthy search the San Francisco church installed a young, enthusiastic pastor from Slovakia, Rev. Viktor Molnár.  After serving a couple of months he abruptly left and now they are looking for a new pastor. The church is closed, it may never reopen.

Pastor Viktor Molnar at San Francisco Bay

The situation in Phoenix is even more chaotic. Last year Zsolt Demeter, Presbiter of HRCA published a three-page letter attacking Pastor András Debreczeni of the local Hungarian Reformed Church.  Demeter called Debreczeni a liar and cheater who illegally taped conversations; he demanded his removal.  Lawsuits were filed and now it is a full blown war between Pastor Debreczeni and HRCA Bishop Zoltán Lizik of Windsor, Canada.

I received an email from Ms. Réka Nagy, Hungarian Cultural Association of Phoenix explaining the issues. According to Ms. Nagy the alleged illegal activities of Pastor Debreczeni were never reported to the police “because none of the members who were recorded was interested in him being charged with some kind of felony or paying any type of imposition.”

Some church members expected that Debreczeni “would be reported to his superiors” and reprimanded by the Church. Thus instead of the police, he was reported to his superiors who tried to wipe everything under the rug for months. “I know this, because I was one of the members who was recorded and I have been through this whole process.”

As it turned out The Judicial Commission of HRCA (five people) came to Phoenix looked at the evidence that both parties presented, listened to both parties involved in the conflict and took a final decision. After that decision Pastor Debreczeni terminated all relations with HRCA.

Pastor Debreczeni with the Hungarian flag in Phoenix AZ

Ms. Nagy explained that Debreczeni “has never started a different church. He solely filed an Amendment with AZ Corporation Commission” and changed the name of the Church by adding “First” to the existing name.  He communicated to HRCA that he did not want to belong to it and HRCA accepted his decision. When asked to leave the church premises he refused to do so.

It seems that the majority of the community supports Pastor Debreczeni, who wants to operate independently from Budapest.  Many suspect that Bishop Lizik is a lobbyist of the Budapest government and plans to turn his Hungarian Reformed Church in America into a pro-Orbán nationalist lobby organization.  He often coordinates with Hungarian officials, among them Mr. Péter Szilágyi, the ministerial commissioner responsible for Hungarian communities abroad.  It seems that Bishop Lizik has never heard of separation of church and state

Bishop Zoltán Lizik (middle) coordinates with Mr. Péter Szilágyi (left), commissioner for Hungarian communities abroad in Budapest.

On his visit to Budapest Bishop Lizik reported to his Hungarian handlers what they wanted to hear: his Church is strong and thriving.  Nothing is further from the truth.

György Lázár

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