Hungarian Tax Authorities Raid Evangelical Church
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST (Worthy News) – Hungary’s main opposition parties have condemned a raid by armed tax authorities of an evangelical church and its charities for the homeless and other vulnerable people.
Dozens of National Tax and Customs Administration (NAV) officials entered the Budapest-based Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET) church and its Shelter Charity Association, Worthy News learned.
Monday’s raid came years after the state revoked MET’s church status in a move resembling Hungary’s communist past. The decision denied the church of state income and the right for members to donate one percent of their annual income tax to the church.
MET lost its church status following the pastor’s public criticism about the prime minister’s perceived autocratic policies.
Pastor Gábor Iványi, who was persecuted during Hungary’s previous communist dictatorship, had baptized two of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s eldest children.
However, Iványi later became critical of Orbán’s alleged crackdown on several non-traditional churches, media, and others deemed dangerous to his power base. “I thought we both wanted to eliminate the one-party system and build democracy. Today I know it was just a dream of mine; I’m disappointed in him,” Iványi said publicly.
In addition, Iványi once said about Orbán’s policies: “what he does is against the teachings of Christ.”
Iványi openly condemned corruption.
However, NAV denied political bias and wrongdoing, saying its raid was only linked to “large-scale budgetary fraud” by the pastor’s church and charities.
But the pastor said the state owes MET, a Methodist offshoot, 12 billion forints ($36 million) after winning a case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
The ECHR agreed with Pastor Gábor Iványi that the government’s treatment violated fundamental rights, while Hungary’s Constitutional Court drew similar conclusions.
The 18,000 members-string MET needs funding as it runs schools and social institutions in Budapest and across the country, mostly in poor areas.
Its Shelter Charity Association has provided material and spiritual assistance and protection to vulnerable children, the homeless, the sick, and the lonely since 1989. They work among Hungarians here and abroad.
MET and its charity organizations employ some 1,000 people, according to church records.
Its Shelter Charity Association admitted that “due to financial difficulties,” they owed NAV 246 million forints ($747,000) in unpaid payroll taxes, including a penalty for delayed payment.
“Let us emphasize that with the money taken away from us, we do not fund our church’s religious activities. But we give it for the poorest to have hope to recover, live a dignified life, and build a future,” the charity said.
The 70-year-old pastor linked the troubles of MET and its charities to the state “unconstitutionally withholding” church funds.
The case is controversial as the prime minister supports persecuted Christians through a government agency.
Orbán, who faces a tough election on April 3, has also come under European Union criticism over alleged rule-of-law violations, charges he says are politically motivated.
However, opposition parties uniting against Orbán disagree.
At a rally in support of the pastor, the liberal mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, said Iványi “embodies the conscience of the Hungarian nation.”
The mayor said Iványi had reminded the prime minister” of the democrat he once used to be, who betrayed everything he once stood for, and who today represents his interests instead of those of the public.”
Pastor Iványi agreed. “We want to live in a country where we won’t have to be afraid anymore,” Iványi said. “Where laws aren’t passed on Christmas Eve or during the night, where elections don’t involve cheating and where the press isn’t taken over in its entirety.”
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