Hungarian President Katalin Novák Resigns Over Pardon in Child Sex Abuse Case

Hungary's far-right president resigned Saturday amid widespread protests and intense criticism over the pardon she granted to a man convicted of helping cover up widespread sexual abuse by the director of a state-run children's home.

Katalin Novák, who at 46 is the youngest person and first woman to hold the Hungarian presidency, said in a nationally televised speech that the news of the pardon had “caused the perplexity and disquietude of many people.”

The pardon was one of two dozen granted by Novák in April 2023, just before Pope Francis' visit to the country.

“I made a mistake,” she said. “Today is the last day I address you as president.”

“I took the decision to grant a pardon last April, believing that the convict had not abused the vulnerability of the children in his care,” Novák said in his speech on Saturday. “I made a mistake, because the decision to pardon and the lack of justification were likely to raise doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia. But here there is not and cannot be any doubt.

Forgiveness was revealed on February 2 by the independent news site 444., which identified the recipient as “Endre K.”, the former deputy director of the Kossuth Zsuzsa children's home in Bicske, a town about 32 kilometers from Budapest. Endre K. was sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison for forcing victims to withdraw their allegations against his boss, János Vásárhelyiwho was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

The reaction was immediate and lasted all week. On Friday, some 1,000 protesters gathered outside Novák's office to demand his resignation. A large protest took place outside his office Friday evening, with about 1,000 protesters gathering and some placing children's toys — some with duct tape covering their mouths — on the ground outside the building.

Novak was called a “puppet” of ultranationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, whose Fidesz party has made concerted efforts to undermine democratic institutions and consolidate power since securing a constitutional majority in 2010. A staunch defender of “traditional values”, Novák assumed the presidency in May 2022, after having been Minister of Family.

A protester in Budapest holds up a sign reading “Bastards” in front of the offices of Hungarian President Katalin Novák.

Janos Kummer/Getty Images

“If this can happen, then the ten-year struggle of the victims and their legal defense becomes completely useless,” said András Gál, lawyer representing the victims in the Kossuth Zsuzsa case. told independent Hungarian media outlet “…I think her pardon of the deputy director who forced the victims of the director of the seriously pedophilic children's home to change their testimony is another big step backwards. Now it seems there are no limits.

Gál told Telex, which was founded in 2020 by Hungarian journalist Veronika Munk, that the victims, over the years, “became psychologically destroyed”. At least one of them committed suicide and others struggle with drug addiction while continuing to deal with the aftereffects of what they endured.

THURSDAY, Orbán formally proposed an amendment to the national constitution that would prohibit future presidents from pardoning anyone convicted of crimes involving children.

Another Fidesz member, former Justice Minister Judit Varga, also resigned following the pardon and said in a Facebook post that she would “retire from public life.” Novák did not say what she plans to do next. His seat will be occupied, on an interim basis, by the President of Parliament László Kövér.

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