Hungary’s President Katalin Novak Resigns over Child Sex Abuse Case Pardon

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Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned live on television Saturday after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted of helping to cover up sexual abuse in a children’s home.

Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned on Saturday following mounting public criticism over her decision to pardon a man convicted of covering up a child sexual abuse case.

“I made a mistake … Today is the last day that I address you as a president,” Novak said in her speech during a national televised address.

“I decided to grant a pardon last April, believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children whom he had overseen. I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning was suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to paedophilia,” she added.

At least 1,000 protesters took to the streets of the country’s capital Budapest on Friday, calling for Novak to step down. Hungarian opposition parties had also demanded her resignation.

Novak had pardoned some two dozen people in April 2023 ahead of a visit by Pope Francis. Among those pardoned was the deputy director of a children’s home who had helped the former director of the home hide his crimes.

The former director had himself been jailed for eight years for sexually abusing underage boys at the government-run facility between 2004 and 2016.

Endre K, the deputy director, received a three-year sentence in 2022 and was also barred for a further five years from all activities and occupations in connection with minors.

But due to Novak’s pardon, Endre was set free and is allowed, in theory, to return to his profession.

Novak, a close ally and former family minister of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, resigned a week after her presidential pardon was first reported by local news site 444.hu.

The revelation caused a public uproar and demands from the opposition for her and former Justice Minister Judit Varga, who approved the pardon, to quit. Varga resigned Saturday as a lawmaker as well as from her new role leading the European elections campaign for Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.

She announced that she would take political responsibility for endorsing the pardon, and “retire from public life, resigning my seat as a member of parliament and also as leader of the EP list”.

The head of Fidesz’s parliamentary group, Mate Kocsis, said Novak and Varga made “responsible” decisions which the party would respect.

Novak is a popular figure in Fidesz and a rare female politician in a male-dominated country. In 2022, she became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president.

In her televised speech Saturday, Novak apologised to victims and their families. She said her apology was “to those whom I may have offended and to all the victims who might have felt that I did not stand up for them,” adding she had always “consistently advocated for the protection of children and families.”

The scandal was a rare setback for Orban, who has been in power since 2010, and who faces European parliament elections just as the country emerges from an inflation crisis.