Hungarian President Katalin Novák resigned from her post on Saturday after she admitted to making mistakes in relation to the presidential pardon of a convict who helped to cover up child abuse in a Budapest children’s home.
Former justice minister and the governing Fidesz party’s lead candidate in the upcoming European elections, Judit Varga, also announced her decision to resign from parliament and step back from frontline politics for her part in counter-signing the pardon during her time at the justice ministry.
In an address broadcast on state television, Novák expressed her regret at the optics of the situation related to her pardon issued in April 2023 for a man who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for pressuring child abuse victims of a children’s home director to remain silent.
“I made a gracious decision that caused confusion and unrest in many people,” Hungary’s first-ever female president said. “It is understandable that they expect an explanation.
“I believed that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of children whom he had overseen. I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” she added.
The pardon was one of two dozen issued by Novák at the time, and the circumstances of the case remain undisclosed.
“As a Hungarian, I would expect the president of the republic not to make mistakes. If you do, face those to whom you owe an account and take responsibility,” she told viewers.
“I apologize to those I have offended and to any victims who may have felt that I was not standing up for them. I was, am, and always will be with children and families,” she added.
Judit Varga announced on Facebook that she would be “retiring from public life” and resigning as a member of the Hungarian parliament and from leading the governing party’s electoral list in the European elections in June.
The former justice minister explained that she had, during her previous role, continued the 25-year-long convention of countersigning presidential pardons but accepted she must “assume political responsibility” for not contesting the decision.
The controversy had risked becoming a distraction for the Hungarian government as the pressure ramped up for heads to roll this week. Novák sought to debunk misleading opposition claims that the government was on the side of pedophiles during a press conference on Tuesday following a meeting with Armenian President Vahagn Hacsaturján.
“During my presidency, there was no pardon for pedophiles, and there will be no pardon, this was also the case in this case,” she told journalists.
However, it soon became clear that political casualties were unavoidable.
Máté Kocsis, the current leader of the Fidesz parliamentary group, said “Katalin Novák and Judit Varga made a responsible decision, which we respect,” and attacked opposition politicians for their hypocrisy concerning the incident.
“Their resignations are proof that mistakes on the right have consequences, and crimes on the left don’t… There are no consequences for the corruption in Budapest, the rolling dollars, the Antifa bloodshed, and basically nothing that comes out about them,” Kocsis said of left-wing politicians in Hungary.
“The decision of Katalin Novák and Judit Varga testifies to this moral difference,” he added.
Director General of the Center for Fundamental Rights Miklós Szánthó added that “the Hungarian right has always and consistently stood up for the protection of families and children, against pedophiles and pedophilia,” and claimed the Hungarian left had been “on the same page as Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who sexually abused children, and did not even vote for the child protection law.”
“If someone makes a mistake or goes against the core values, they must take responsibility,” added Dániel Deák, a senior analyst at the Szazad Institute.
“We have never seen an example of responsibility on the left,” he said. “Just think of the brutal police terror in 2006. To this day, the leader of the left is a person who has not taken responsibility for his actions. He didn’t even apologize.
“The national side does everything to protect children, and the head of state and Judit Varga very correctly accepted the responsibility and resigned. Meanwhile, the left supports gender propaganda, and did not vote for child protection measures in the parliament,” Deák concluded.
Following the revelation of the pardon, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament to prevent the presidential pardon from being used in relation to crimes committed against children.