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

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Christopher Adam says:

    I wonder if these pastors ever reflect on the meaning behind the term ‘pastor.’ Pastors were not respected leaders in their communities, they were not influential, they were poor and often they were not welcome in towns. They sacrificed their lives for their flock, for which they showed a type of deep parental care. Some of these pastors today see only the leadership component of serving as a pastor, and their authority or power — whether real or imagined. Where they fail is in the call to be servant leaders…as evidenced by this story too. Perhaps even more important than this: pastors engaged in power-seeking politics fail in their vocation to be pastoral.

  2. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Unfortunately the malaise is even deeper. In many of the Hungarian parishes in North America, the “pastors” are entirely under the control of some of the most reactionary members of their lay communities, who are joined at the hip to the Horthyite, neo-fascist fraud artists currently in charge of the flock in Budapest. The Montreal Hungarian community is a prime example. For half a century, it’s “strong man” was Gyula Detre, personal bodyguard to Hungary’s Fűhrer, and in charge of military security during the most desperate and disgusting part of Hungary’s alliance with the Nazis. His boss, Ferenc Szálasi was exceuted as a war criminal. Detre managed to get away by hiding his identity, rebranding himself as a “Christian warrior on behalf of Western values” and retooling himself as a stool-pigeon for the Canadian Mounted Police during the height of the cold war. (He would brag in his public autobiography published in 2007, what a kindly chap Hitler and Szálasi were) The 102 year old Detre is one of the highest decorated Vitéz in Viktor Orbán’s stable in North America. Orbán has many more happy to serve him for a medal or two.

    Nothing will change in the steady decay of the Hungarian diaspora in North America until the virus that’s killing it is eradicated in Hungary, by Hungarians.

  3. Dear Mr. Lázár!

    Thank you for clarifying a few things from your previous article related to the happenings in Phoenix. However, some of the content might still be confusing to the reader. You keep stating that Debreczeni and his congregation wants independence from Budapest. How so? Since there is proof that this is not the case. They have applied and received funds from the Hungarian government recently (even after them separating from the HRCA). Their Hungarian school was and is currently supported by the Bethlen Gabor Alap as well as some of the events like the Taste of Hungary Festival. As I have mentioned it earlier in my response to your email asking me to comment, this information is public. You can easily confirm it by going over this list: https://bgazrt.hu/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Diaszp%C3%B3ra-p%C3%A1ly%C3%A1zatok-eredm%C3%A9nyei.pdf

    Also a suggestion if you are truly interested and would like to dive deeper into this matter: try to put together a timeline of events and base everything on facts. It would probably be extremely useful to go over all the public documentation (HRCA by-laws, requests, appeals, letters, and official decisions) from the disciplinary action taken against Debreczeni by HRCA. Try to avoid opinions and hearsay. That is just my two cents on this matter. Otherwise it is difficult to present an objective picture of what is happening in Phoenix. Of course, if that is your intent.

    Respectfully,
    Réka Nagy

  4. Avatar György Lázár says:

    Dear Réka,

    Thank you for clarifying these issues. To be honest, I’m surprised that both Debreczeni’s congregation and HRCA are receiving funds from Hungary while they are in a bitter legal fight at US courts. It seems that Hungarian taxpayers are footing the bill independently who wins.
    I reached out to Bishop Lizik and Presbiter Demeter several times and asked them to provide an update about the status of the lawsuit… no answer so far.
    It is a general problem in the Hungarian American community that conflicts like this are swept under the rug and little public information is offered. My goal is to provide information as accurate as possible and penetrate the “wall of secrecy”… You contribution is greatly appreciated.

  5. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    @ Réka Nagy

    Why not do what you are asking of Mr. Lázár ? Give us the facts. The readers who are far from the fire cannot do much with comments that simply dismiss an author as someone who is ignorant of the facts. This, all too often is the refuge of those who have something to hide (witness the use of this term – heresay – throught Donald Trump’s impeachment by members of the Republican Party). To put it bluntly: just crying liar, liar, your pants are on fire, is not a valid refutation.

    If you consider Mr. Lázár to be disrespectful of the truth, why not tell us what the truth is, and ducument it as you know it? Mr. Lázár had done his job. It’s now your turn to do so. I’m sure Mr. Lazar would be happy to be proven wrong so he can learn from his mistakes. Go for it.

  6. Avatar Karl Busch says:

    The IRS should look into how the orban regime is sending funds thru their NY disbursement office to various Hu churches to indoctrinate
    the Hu diaspora. Some of the churches are involved in propaganda and spreading fascist ideology.
    Consequently, their tax-exempt status should be revoked.

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