Author: Bálint Misetics
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The Cardinal does not speak the truth: it is not a crime to provide accommodation to refugees
“At the moment, the churches do not have the right to accommodate refugees. It is forbidden,” stated Cardinal Péter Erdő, according to the report of Népszabadság. In the news of RTL Klub, the Cardinal literally says that, “we do not have the right to take in a refugee child spending the night on the street and to tell them to stay in our home, because then we would be human traffickers.”
Were we to presume that Cardinal Péter Erdő, Archbishop of the Esztergom-Budapest Archdiocese, former President of the Hungarian Catholic Bishopric Conference, Pro-Rector and present Chief Chancellor of the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, is a serious man, who does not make statements with such confidence regarding issues which he knows nothing about, regretfully we have to come to the conclusion that he deliberately misleads the believers and public opinion.
According to laws presently in force, “human trafficking” is defined as when someone aids the illegal crossing of the country’s border (Hungarian Penal Code, Art. 353). Another possible technical offence that could arise would be “facilitation of illegal stay” (Art. 354), which would only be fulfilled if someone facilitates another’s illegal stay “for financial gain”. If then in solidarity – perhaps from a Christian charity – we were to provide accommodation to people arriving in our country as asylum-seekers, and we didn’t ask for money from them, we would not be committing a crime. We will not become “human traffickers” just for accommodating refugees in our homes or in our churches. Even if, according to our current laws, they are staying in our country illegally.
The Cardinal – and his Church – must thus look for another excuse, if he would like to save face for mostly just turning their heads (or at the moment, “negotiating with the government”), when hundreds and thousands of our fellow human beings fleeing from war are sleeping in our cities under the open sky, often with uncared-for wounds, weakened, mostly hungry and certainly exhausted – and when the state, instead of organising their dignified reception and care, builds a razor-wire fence and incites hatred among the Hungarian people.
The moral quality of Péter Erdő’s dictum does not come, of course, as a surprise: the above statement was made at a press conference, which the Cardinal held together with András Veres, County Bishop for Szombathely (Western Hungary – trans.), who brought shame on his Church exactly ten years ago by speaking up against the integrated education of disadvantaged pupils (in the name of the Hungarian Catholic Bishopric Conference). I (the author – trans.) cannot know what would, in such a case, induce one of the important heads of the Catholic Church to make such transparent excuses, apart from the usual, when they are failing to meet the most fundamental Christian moral thesis – which they represent nominally – although the need for smooth cooperation with the state authorities surely plays a role.
It is important to make clear that the Cardinal’s conclusion would still not be correct, even if the accommodation of refugees were to constitute a crime (which may still occur, of course). If someone does accept the existence of higher moral norms than those made by men (which should be true to Christians by definition), then the former must be followed, even if they were to constitute a crime by legal standards. “I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right” – wrote Henry David Thoreau. In the words of the disciples: “We must obey the Lord rather than men”. Or does the Cardinal really think that if a few servile governing party Members of Parliament actually submit a bill one day, which should forbid that we provide accommodation to refugee families with small children, that that would overwrite the example of the Good Samaritan of the New Testament?
Theologist Péter Erdő should be wise enough to ponder the weight of the situation and his own responsibility, and perhaps look for Saint Thomas of Aquino’s Summa Theologica on his bookshelf, dust it off, open it and consider the following passage from it, before making a public statement regarding a moral issue of such high priority:
man-made laws often serve as the basis of false accusations and cause injustice for people. Iz 10 [1-2] says: “Woe to those, who make evil laws, sign repressive decrees, who do not serve justice for the oppressed, deprive the rights of my poor people and exert force on my humiliated people.” But it is permitted for all to avoid oppression and force. Thus, man-made laws do not bind man on the forum of conscience. (Question 96. regarding the mastership belonging to a man in the state of innocence, Article 4.)
Today in Hungary, we all at the same time have to try to meet the moral challenges posed by the dignified reception of the refugees arriving in our country and make it obvious: by words, acts and – if necessary – by resisting peacefully unjust laws, so that the Hungarian state does not act in our name when it fails to fulfil its most fundamental humanitarian obligations. The followers of the Catholic Church, however, must even more make it clear that Péter Erdő does not make statements in their name.