by Desmond O'Grady
The dilemma of Cardinal Lekai
JOHN PAUL 11's policy towards Marxist regimes will be tested in March when the Hungarian primate, Cardinal Lazio Lekai, offers his resignation.
All Catholic bishops must offer their resignation at 75, but Cardinal Lekai's resignation is of particular significance because he has been accused of softness on communism.
Will Pope John Paul seek someone more willing to challenge the regime or admit Cardinal Lekai's collaborative policy is justifiable?
A recent decision to allow the establishment of a new religious order for nursing in Catholic institutions is a pointer to the good relations between Cardinal Lekai and the regime. Another is approval for construction of a church in Bekasmeguer, a highrise suburb on Budapest's outskirts — it is the first time a church has been built in a new suburb for a long time.
When Pope John Paul was Archbishop of Cracow, he staged a memorable fight to put a church in what was to be a godless satellite town, Nowa Huta. Cardinal Lekai's admirers say he has achieved as much in Bekasmeguer as the Pope in Nowa Huta but without the drama.
Stories of contrasts between the Pope and Laszlo Lekai are legion. In the cardinals' meeting after Pope John Paul l's death, Cardinal Wyszynski and Pope John Paul 11 are said to have criticised Cardinal Lekai for compromising with communism.
Cardinal Lekai claimed to have simply put Pope Paul VI's "Ostpolitik" into practice, but Pope Paul's secretary of state, Cardinal Jean Villot, reportedly said the Pope had not intended to encourage collaboration as indiscriminate as Cardinal Lekai's.
Another story is that, after his election, the present Pope greeted many of the Cardinals in their native tongue, but not Cardinal Lekai. A Hungarian journalist was reportedly told that Pope John Paul would greet Cardinal Lekai in Hungarian when he learned to bang his fists on the desk in dealing with the authorities.
In the 1970s, there was a marked contrast between the Polish hierarchy's attitude to Communist authorities and that of Cardinal Lekai. The Polish *hierarchy was willing to risk a showdown with state authorities but Cardinal Lekai has shunned confrontation.
He believes in proceeding cautiously, winning concessions as the first of good relations rather than from the church's strength.
Cardinal Lekai's style contrasts with that of his predecessor as Archbishop of Esztergorn, Cardinal Josef Mindszenty, whom Cardinal Lekai served as Secretary.
Cardinal Mindszenty was imprisoned, tortured and tried by the Communists, released during the 1956 uprising and then lived in the American Embassy in Budapest until, as part of an agreement between the Vatican and the Hungarian Government, he was sent to Vienna.
For Cardinal Mindszenty, it may have appeared that the communist regime imposed after the second World War was destined to fall. And the Communists expected the Church to disappear in a socialist state.
"Now," said Janos Szalua, the deputy head of the Catholic section of the Office for Religious Affairs, "We know we're 'condemned' to live with one another." He said the Government's aim was to coexist with the Catholics.
Critics claim Cardinal Lekai's kidgloves policy has isolated the church from social issues such as the protest among sonic small Catholic groups against military service.
For Cardinal Lekai's supporters, he is a great man scandalously criticised. They point to the improvement in the Church's situation, mention the negotiations for religious television broadcasts and add that the Primate is anxious to raise the level of theological training.
Nevertheless, the problem for Pope John Paul will be to find a successor who is acceptable to him and the regime.