Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigns over child abuse pardon scandal
The president of Hungary has announced her resignation live on television following a controversial decision to pardon a man convicted of concealing a child sexual abuse case.
Last week, President Novak’s granting of clemency to a man imprisoned for coercing children to retract sexual abuse allegations against a director of a state-operated children’s home came to light.
Protests demanding her resignation had been escalating throughout Hungary. Ms. Novak expressed regret and acknowledged making “a mistake” in authorizing the pardon.
Furthermore, Judit Varga, the former justice minister who sanctioned the pardon, has also stepped down from her recent position overseeing the European elections campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.
The controversy leading to the resignations ensued after the Hungarian media disclosed the names of 25 individuals pardoned by Ms. Novak in April the previous year, coinciding with a visit to Hungary by Pope Francis.
Among those pardoned was the deputy director of a children’s home near Budapest, who had been sentenced to three years for compelling children to retract abuse allegations against the home’s director.
The director himself had received an eight-year prison sentence for abusing children at the government-operated facility.
Despite demands from Hungarian opposition parties and protesters for her resignation, Ms. Novak’s decision to step down was both sudden and unexpected.
She is a prominent figure within Fidesz and a rare female politician in a predominantly male political landscape. Ms. Novak has been a key ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Orban and previously served as his family minister.
In 2022, she became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president.
The case has unleashed an unprecedented political scandal for Hungary’s long-serving nationalist government.
In particular, it caused deep embarrassment for Fidesz, which has made traditional family values the cornerstone of its social policy.
Speaking in an address live on television, Ms. Novak said she granted the pardon in the belief the convicted man “did not exploit the vulnerability of the children under his oversight”.
She apologized to victims who “might have felt that I did not stand up for them”.
“I made a mistake, as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were conducive to triggering doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” Ms. Novak added.
In addition to the resignation of Ms Novak, another leading female politician from Fidesz has also resigned over the same case.
Judit Varga, who was minister of justice at the time of the pardon, countersigned the clemency decision.
The double resignation of its two most prominent female politicians is a serious setback for Mr. Orban and his party. Ms Varga is due to head the Fidesz list in the European elections in June.