dozens of church officials spied for the feared Communist secret service. The Hungarian Catholic Bishops' Conference (HCBC) also criticized an ongoing debate in Parliament on whether to adopt a government backed 'agent law', which would give the public free access to files on all Communist informers, Hungarian 'Kossuth' Radio reported.
"15 years after the change of the political system, the agent question can no longer be clarified and politicians had no moral grounds to condemn those who used to be enlisted as agents," the state broadcaster quoted the HCBC as saying.
The statement came after an Internet website on Saturday, February 26, published the names of 219 people who allegedly spied on their fellow citizens during the communist regime. The list reportedly includes the names of 50 church officials, 67 journalists, 40 politicians and 62 persons active in culture and arts.
Many active Christian believers and political dissidents are known to have been persecuted by the Communist secret service, human rights groups and church sources say. However "the aim of stirring up passions around the so-called agent law...is to attack the Church and discredit church officials," argued the bishops in an apparent reference to the published names.
Unlike Eastern Germany and several other Warsaw Pact countries, Hungary so far did not reveal the names of secret police collaborators, and very little information on the spying services accumulated on the country's 10 million Hungarians.
Historian Maria Schmidt seemed to agree with the bishops that naming all former Hungarian spies now, as proposed by the Socialist-led government, could shame those who were forced to work as secret agents, including church leaders from Catholic and Protestant denominations.
In addition the 'agent law' under discussion says very little about possible legal action against
former spies, which could undermine Hungary's young democracy as a new European Union nation, Schmidt said.
"If you could see that [even] your leaders or your journalists or your politicians committed such inhuman crimes without any punishment, I think that would undermine the moral of the democracy. So than it is very difficult to explain what is the difference between a democracy and dictatorship."
Don't tell that to Catholic Priest Gyorgy Bulanyi, who suffered under decades of Communism. He has in recent years urged church officials in this mainly Catholic nation to be honest about their spy past.
"We could cleanse all of Hungarian public life (and) the Hungarian Catholic clergy, if a confession were made to the effect that we danced to the tune of the party-state," he said in a Hungarian Television interview.
The clergy would follow the example of officials in both left-wing and right-wing administrations who already admitted to having worked for the communist secret service. In 2002 then-prime minister Peter Medgyessy was forced, after a leak, to admit that he had served as a counter-espionage officer under the communist regime.
Medgyessy told a BosNewsLife reporter that "at that time this served the interests of the country" and that he does "not think that it was a mistake."
Yet some on Saturday's list were not pleased to see their names published, and suggested Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was partly responsible and "playing with people's fates," because of his support for the controversial 'tell-all' agent law.
Speaking in parliament, Gyurcsany, a former Communist himself, called the charges "spiteful and shameful," the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) said.
(With: BosNewsLife Center in Budapest)