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Emanuel Geltman

Trial by Confession Sentences Cardinal;
Aimed at Opposition

(14 February 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 7, 14 February 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty before a Stalinist Court in Budapest, Hungary, ended, formally on Tuesday, February 8, with the imposition of a life sentence. What the sentence has not ended is the worldwide protest occasioned by the trial, and the universal revulsion, outside of the Stalinist circles, against the sinister methods of “trial by confession.”

Arrested on December 27, 1948, the Cardinal was charged with plotting to restore the Hapsburg monarchy, with black market operations, with seeking foreign intervention in Hungary. Evidence to support the accusations consisted of a “confession” by the Cardinal before the court, and of various documents, purportedly in the Cardinal’s writing. Thus, the trial fitted neatly into the pattern of previous “Moscow Trials,” and like them must be stamped a frame-up – no examination before an open and free court, no defense, except as authorized by the court, no witnesses or documentation subject to OBJECTIVE examination, no jury free to decide on the basis of the evidence presented the guilt or innocence of the accused; the “defense” attorney instead of defending, constantly excusing himself and his client and apologizing for his actions.

Thus, every accusation could conceivably be true, in one degree or another, and yet the trial would bear the indelible mark of frame-up!

On the first day of the trial, Cardinal Mindszenty admitted to “guilt in principle and in detail of most of the accusations made.” Specifically, he admitted: (1) to discussing with another defendant, Juszin Baranyai, a possible third war between Russia and the U.S., and the new government that might be formed after such a war; (2) to meeting Archduke Otto of Hapsburg in a Chicago nunnery in 1947; (3) to trying to influence the 1947 elections as a royalist; (4) to writing a letter, while under arrest, to U.S. Minister Chapin, asking for assistance in escaping; (5) to writing various documents found in his palace, documents which establish his connection with black market dealings, other governments, etc.

Against this confession there is the Cardinal’s statement in a letter written last November that any confession he might make would be “a consequence of human frailty and, in advance, I declare it null and void.”

Not enough detail was presented in the trial, as reported in the press (severe limitations were imposed by the Hungarian government on press coverage), to even submit the accusations to critical examination. The confession (with its admitted authorship of the documents) was the sole proof. For example, it is entirely conceivable that a Catholic prelate would be sympathetic to a monarchy, and equally that he met Archduke Otto of the Hapsburg dynasty in Chicago. But something more than the court’s say-so, and the Cardinal’s confession, is required as proof. Are there witnesses? Is there any objective evidence?

Evidence of Fraud

Or, with respect to the admission of seeking Chapin’s aid in escaping. It is entirely conceivable that the Cardinal might have wanted to escape.

But: (1) would he be so stupid as to write the details in. a letter and think he could get it to Chapin; (2) having written a letter, on the assumption that he could get it to the U.S. ministry, how did it fall into the court’s hands? (3) would he have offered the U.S. minister $4,000 to get a plane and a pilot?

Or, the documents found in his palace: would the Cardinal have left them lying around in the palace cellar to be picked up by the police?

Further, parts of the accusations could be entirely correct, and still not constitute a crime in any state but a totalitarian state; opposition to the regime, for example.

However much the accusations might seem to jibe with overall Vatican views and objectives, past experience with Stalinist trials is itself sufficient to cast infinitely more than a reasonable doubt on this trial. The whole business of “trial by confession” is an abhorrent contribution of Stalinism, no matter against whom used, whether a revolutionist or a Catholic.

Moscow Trial Pattern

The press has speculated on the use of drugs. No one can say for sure what methods were employed, but it is hard to imagine the Cardinal confessing except under some form of duress.

A whole generation of revolutionists was wiped out in the infamous Moscow purges of the thirties. Possibly, the same methods used to force confessions then were used now: possibly different ones. It is likely that many different devices were used to exact confessions in the Moscow Trials, from outright physical torture, to insidious forms of mental torture, to appeals in the case of those to whom Russia still represented a socialist fatherland (however degenerated), to serve the cause of humanity by a final act of sacrifice, suicide by confession. The Cardinal may have been drugged, may have been tortured, who knows?

There is, of course, an important distinction between the men and women exterminated in Russia, and the Cardinal. The accused then were revolutionists who could not possibly have committed the acts with which they were charged. One of them might have turned against a lifetime of dedication to socialist struggle. But all of them, almost the entire generation who led the Russian revolution to victory in 1917 – for them to turn against their achievement, their principles and resort to terror, complicity with fascists, etc. – Impossible. Despite this distinction, the court’s case against the Cardinal does not stand up.

The Cardinal, as a servant of the Vatican, with its pro-West and anti-Stalin orientation, could possibly have negotiated with Western nations for one or another purpose. But even this important distinction means nothing against the absence of evidence. The Vatican is most decidedly a reactionary institution. But its accusers in this case are not a revolutionary, democratic, socialist government, but a monstrous dictatorship.

The trial might have had some credibility had the Cardinal been able to choose his lawyers from outside Hungary, to freely prepare his defense, to ask for witnesses in his behalf, to solicit independent handwriting experts, to impose the burden of proof on the accuser (which in the case of Stalinists is a double burden for they will not hesitate to utilize any fraud). As it is, the trial must be held a frame-up.

For example, it makes no matter in this case that the Cardinal opposed the secularization of the schools under its control. Secularization of the schools is normally a progressive achievement, and the Cardinal’s opposition was as typically reactionary as his church. But few things are done for progressive purposes in Stalinland – Stalinist controlled schools will educate as little as Church controlled schools. This occasioned a big struggle last November. The Cardinal then ordered the ringing of all church bells in mourning. And, it was in November that he wrote his disclaimer of a confession. But the pros and cons of that dispute, or others like them, have nothing to do with the trial!

Why the Trial?

The Vatican has been known to accommodate itself to the most totalitarian of regimes. It got along fine, for the most part, with Mussolini. It is not inconceivable that the Stalinist government might have worked out a settlement, a modus operandi, if only a temporary one, with the Cardinal. Or sought to bring the Cardinal under its control, as it is apparently doing with the bishops of Hungary. After all, 65 per cent of this predominantly peasant country is Catholic. Why not try to wean the peasants without outraging too violently, in the initial stages of establishing the authority of the regime, their religious affiliations.

And there we think lies the possible answer to the whole ratty affair. The Vatican is committed to the West. Agreed. The Vatican and Russia, for reasons implicit in the authoritarian nature of each, and for dozens of other reasons as well, are mortal enemies. Agreed. But that the Stalinists should have chosen this moment for an attack of this kind solely on the ground of its anti-West objectives is unlikely. It has stimulated wide opposition. It has given the U.S. government, the Catholic Church of the U.S., and the press an opportunity to howl loudest at the very moment that Stalin is vigorously promoting propaganda moves to win sympathy. It will not sit well with the people of countries like France and Italy whose support the Stalinists are particularly anxious to win.

The reason must lie primarily in Hungary itself. The Catholic Church there is the channel through which peasant opposition against the government’s program is expressed. The Church is a base of organized opposition. It goes without saying that the Church, above all the Catholic Church, is more than a religious institution. It does engage in political affairs. In Hungary, whether the peasant program is good, bad or indifferent, this program was voiced by the Church.

Something more along the same lines is equally involved. It has happened in the past (under Hitler), and it will happen again: where other channels of opposition are destroyed, the people will utilize the Church as a means of organizing, of getting together, of fighting for democratic rights (if only the democratic right to freedom of religion). Even the reactionary Catholic Church can be come the center of a democratic movement in a totalitarian country. (Pastor Niemoller became such a symbol in Hitler Germany.)

In these we think lie the motivations for the trial, a trial in the Stalinist manner. Perhaps there are socialists who react with sympathy for the jailers because the jailed has on his side a Cardinal Spellman, and because his victimization is utilized by sundry capitalist politicians and the press to cement the fortifications of the cold war. Nothing could be more dangerous. Nothing more harmful to the interests of socialism.

Socialism is the champion of democracy. Socialism is the enemy of Stalinism. The one is equal to the other. A frame-up is a frame-up against no matter whom practiced. A “trial by confession” is a “trial by confession,” no matter who the victim. It is the way of tyranny. It outrages democracy.

The trial of Mindszenty is a “trial by confession.”

It stands as a frame-up!

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