Cardinal Mindszenty during the revolution
Cardinal József Mindszenty was the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church, who was arrested on false charges just before Christmas, December 23, 1948. In the subsequent show trial in February 1949, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At the time, the only western media allowed to report on the trial were the Associated Press and United Press International, both of which were American. Owing to Mindszenty’ declining health and western pressure, in 1955 he was removed from prison and transferred to house arrest. In June 1956, the American reporter Leslie B. Bain, who was of Irish-Hungarian descent and spoke Hungarian well, attempted to conduct an interview with Mindszenty, who was detained in the countryside, but his efforts were unsuccessful.
Owing to the success of the revolution and the political developments that it swept in, on October 31st, the day that Protestants celebrate the Reformation, Mindszenty was released from his house arrest and taken to the Primate’s Palace in Buda Castle, where he received various delegations and western journalists. Crowds celebrated the cardinal as he made his way from the countryside to Budapest, with a large crowd awaiting his arrival in the capital as well. What this made abundantly clear was that the political developments had changed things: the communists, who had previously persecuted the Church, were now reconsidering their position.
Following Mindszenty’s release, he immediately began a “spring cleaning” of the Church and dismissed priests who had collaborated with the regime. During the revolution he spoke on the radio twice, with his speech from November 3 being the better known. Although he did not attack the Nagy Government, he called its members “the inheritors of a failed system.” In his widely-listened to speech on Free Kossuth Radio at 8pm, Mindszenty said, “The system was swept away by the entire Hungarian people. […] This was a fight for freedom unparalleled in the world, with the young generation at the fore of our people.”
The Kádár regime would cite this speech later on, falsifying its contents, to claim that Mindszenty had demanded that Church lands seized in 1945 by the communists be returned, although he never made any such claims. All he asked for was that religious orders be again permitted to operate, and that the Catholic press could be relaunched. None of this came to pass, however, for the following morning the Soviets invaded and brought about an end to the revolution. Mindszenty happened to be in negotiations with three government ministers in Parliament at the time, so he never made it back to the Primate’s Palace. The Soviets occupied the bridges, leaving him with no choice but to ask for asylum at the U.S. Embassy.