What was the impact of the Wekerle government’s liberal laws pertaining to religion? Which ones were the accepted and recognized denominations? Who were the winners of the Wekerle laws? Did religious indifference ensue as a result? Did the episcopacy support the Catholic People’s Party? These are some of the questions that the participants of the VERITAS Debate Night held on October 6th were looking for answers to. The participants included Dr. András Gergely, Subject Team Leader of the Era of the Dual Monarchy Research Team; Dr. Csaba Máté Sarnyai, associate professor at Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary; and Dr. Kálmán Árpád Kovács, Research Fellow at VERITAS.
The laws that came into effect in 1894 and 1895 ushered in a new era in the history of Hungary’s churches. “The role of the state changed, with the state taking upon itself those functions that earlier had belonged primarily to the churches,” emphasized Csaba Máté Sarnyai. As a result of the Wekerle legislative bundle, the citizen became primarily the state’s citizen, and secondly the member of a denomination.
In theory Hungarian law rejected a dominant religion, but in practice it was nonetheless a defined concept, as could be seen by the privileged status of the Catholic Church when compared to the other established religions. For the Protestants, post-1895, there remained a larger conceptual grievance: that officially the state and the government recognized and practiced but one religious creed, Roman Catholicism. If we refer to the established religious denominations, then we are talking about those religions that enjoyed constitutional protection for their beliefs and operation and were named in the nation’s laws. Characteristics included established beliefs, a substantially large congregation and an ingrained standing in society. They had the legal right to self-council, that is to say, autonomy and institutional continuity sustained via public funds and authoritative assistance.