Hungarian president resigns over child abuser pardon controversy
Katalin Novak was named last year by Forbes magazine as the most influential woman in Hungarian public life.
Hungary’s President Katalin Novak announces her resignation in the presidential palace of Budapest on February 10, 2024. (Photo by Sandor Palace / AFP)
Hungarian President Katalin Novak, a close ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, announced her resignation Saturday following outrage over a pardon granted to a man implicated in a child sexual abuse case.
Soon afterwards another Orban supporter, former justice minister Judit Varga, announced she was withdrawing from public life over the affair.
The announcements followed growing pressure from opposition politicians and protests outside the presidential palace Friday evening.
“I am resigning my post,” said 46-year-old Novak, acknowledging that she had made a mistake.
“I apologise to those who I hurt and all the victims who may have had the impression that I did not support them,” the former minister for family policy added.
“I am, I was and I will remain in favour of protecting children and families.”
Novak became the first woman to hold the essentially ceremonial role of president in March 2022.
The controversy was sparked by the pardon granted to a former deputy director of a children’s home. He had helped to cover up his boss’s sexual abuse of the children in their charge.
The decision was made last April during a visit by Pope Francis to Budapest.
Since the independent news site 444 revealed the decision last week, the country’s opposition had been calling for Novak’s resignation.
On Friday evening demonstrators gathered outside the presidential palace and three presidential advisers quit their posts.
Orban must ‘take responsibility’ –
Novak, who had been in Qatar to attend Hungary’s match against Kazakhstan at the World Water Polo Championships on Friday, swiftly returned to Budapest.
As soon as her plane had landed she emerged and announced her resignation.
“The pardon granted and the lack of explanation may have given rise to doubts about zero tolerance of paedophilia,” she said.
“But there can be no doubt on this subject”, she added, before offering her apologies.
Minutes after her announcement, another ally of Orban, Judit Varga, also announced her “withdrawal from public life”.
As justice minister, a post she quit in order to lead a European Parliament election bid, she had approved the pardon.
“I renounce my mandate as an MP and the head of the list for the European Parliament,” she said on Facebook.
“It was quick: first Novak, then Varga,” said Hungarian MEP Anna Donath, reacting to the news.
“But we know that no important decision can be taken in Hungary without Viktor Orban’s approval,” added Donath, a member of the small liberal Momentum party, on Facebook.
“He has to take responsibility and explain what happened… it’s his system”.
In an attempt to calm national anger, Orban had announced on Thursday that he wanted to revise Hungary’s constitution to exclude the possibility of pardoning paedophile criminals.
Novak, who has been temporarily replaced by the Speaker of Parliament Laszlo Kover, was named last year by Forbes magazine as the most influential woman in Hungarian public life.
Her departure leaves Hungary’s political landscape even more male-dominated. Since mid-2023 there have been no women in Viktor Orban’s 16-man cabinet.