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1. Army chaplaincy

Priests have accompanied the army in all Christian nations and Hungary shares this tradition. Crusaders certainly enjoyed spiritual assistance and bishops had their military duties too – when the medieval Hungarian state collapsed at the battle of Mohács (1526) with the Ottoman Empire, almost the whole episcopate fell as bishops took active part in the battle. In the following centuries, Jesuits played an important role as army pastors. Protestant pastors have appeared too, to assist soldiers. From 1773 the army had vicariate as an organisational unit for Catholic priests serving as army chaplains, as well as Greek Catholic and Orthodox priests. In World War I 2,400 army chaplains were in service, including pastors of various Christian denominations and rabbis.

After the communist takeover, the military chaplaincy was dissolved. The army chaplaincy has been reorganised in 1993-94 for the Catholic, the Reformed, the Lutheran denominations as well as for Jewish members of the armed forces. As the national service was abolished in 2004 the number of soldiers has dropped and the role of the chaplaincy has changed as well. Nowadays, chaplains focus on the pastoral care of soldiers and their families with a special attention to army units serving in missions abroad. The system foresees one pastor for 1,000 soldiers.

On setting up the military ordinariate an agreement was signed with the Holy See (1994) and similar agreements have been concluded with other denominations. After the drastic changes in the structure of the army – especially with regard to the professional character of the army – the Holy See and Hungary have agreed on a memorandum on the interpretation of the Agreement concluded in 1994 on the spiritual assistance provided at the army. The parties have stated that army chaplains are remunerated by the Ministry of Defence and that the bylaws of the Chaplaincy are issued by the Ministry in accordance with the Bishops’ Conference. Details are regulated in governmental decrees.

2. Hospital chaplaincies

At hospitals there is no publicly organized chaplaincy service. Religious communities are free to provide assistance to the sick as well as to the medical staff and they are widely engaged into that. Hospitals are obliged to facilitate the free exercise of religion also by providing space for worship. Religious communities may appoint hospital chaplains but usually all clergymen and a large number of volunteers take part in services provided to the sick. There is no special funding foreseen for these activities. To give an example: the Archdiocese Esztergom-Budapest has established a centralized Catholic assistance for the hospitals of Budapest. There is a hotline available night and day and in case of urgency a Catholic priest is sent to any hospital within an hour. This activity is exclusively organized and funded by the church, hospitals are only expected to facilitate it. Whereas religious services on military premises was unimaginable during the communist rule, hospitalized persons have always enjoyed the possibility of spiritual assistance.

3. Prison chaplaincy

Spiritual assistance to inmates of penitentiaries has been carried out in an institutionalised way before the communist takeover. Traditionally, prisons also had chapels. During the communist rule this church activity was not possible, but since the fall of the communist system it is widely appreciated by penitentiaries. Several ecumenical prison chapels were reopened or built, and the chaplaincy service also has an institutional framework since 2000.

In 2000, a chaplaincy for the penitentiaries was established for the Catholic, the Reformed, and the Lutheran churches, as well as for the Jewish community. This institution is similar to the army chaplaincy. All other registered religions also have the right to pursue religious activities in the penitentiaries on the request of the inmates; however, the four largest religions are institutionalised, and their pastors can become public servants, paid by the penitentiaries as their own staff. To qualify, these chaplains must have permission from their churches, and they must comply with the requirements of civil servants. Besides clergymen (which is, for the Catholic Church, not only ordained priests but also deacons) employed by the penitentiary as a prison chaplain, religious communities are free to send any other person (clergy or lay) to pursue religious activities in the prisons. However, they would not be paid by the penitentiary.

Organized prison chaplaincy of mainstream religious communities does not rule out the possibility of any other religious community to engage into prison missions. In practice, penitentiaries welcome all kinds of religious activities, not just those provided by official prison chaplains. Other religious initiatives shall be granted space at prisons and cooperation in this respect functions well. Prisons – unlike the army – are in a situation where they are compelled to appreciate any kind of assistance in the resocialisation of their inmates.

Tihanyi M., "A börtönlelkészi szolgálat működése: A vallásszabadság jogának szervezeti keretei a büntetés-végrehajtási intézetekben" (Operation of the Prison Pastoral Service: Organizational Framework for the Right to Religious Freedom in Penitentiary Institutions), IAS 2018/3, 203-218.

D 9 February 2021    ABalázs Schanda

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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