Hungary’s President Katalin Novak resigns

Announcement follows outrage over Novak’s pardoning of a man convicted in a child sexual abuse case.

Hungary's President Katalin Novak
Hungary's Katalin Novak has resigned as president [File: Michal Cizek/AFP]

Hungarian President Katalin Novak has resigned.

Novak announced her resignation on Saturday after coming under mounting pressure for pardoning a man convicted as an accomplice for helping cover up a sex abuse case in a children’s home.

“I made a mistake … Today is the last day that I address you as a president,” she said in a speech broadcast on state television.

“I made a decision to grant a pardon last April, believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of 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 people protested in the country’s capital on Friday, demanding her resignation. Hungarian opposition parties had also demanded she leave office.

Novak decided to pardon some two dozen people in April 2023, in advance of a visit by Pope Francis, among them the deputy director of a children’s home who helped the former director of the home hide his crimes.

Endre K was sentenced in 2022 to three years and four months in prison and was barred for a further five years from all activities and occupations in connection with minors.

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

“It is hard to find the words when your decision to show mercy deprives victims of due justice,” one of the victims, Mert Pop, wrote on Facebook, calling on Novak to offer an explanation.

On Tuesday, Novak said she would never pardon a paedophile, including in this case. She said the reason behind her decision was not public and all pardons were divisive by their nature.

First female president

Novak is an ally and former family minister of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban. She was also the first female president in Hungary’s history and the youngest person to ever hold the office.

Her resignation came as a rare piece of political turmoil for Hungary’s nationalist governing party Fidesz, which has ruled with a constitutional majority since 2010.

Also implicated in the pardon was Judit Varga, another key Fidesz figure who endorsed the pardon as Hungary’s then-minister of justice. Varga was expected to lead the list of European Parliament candidates from Fidesz when elections are held this summer.

But in a Facebook post on Saturday, Varga 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”.

On Thursday, Orban announced a constitutional amendment to bar convicted child abusers from receiving clemency.

While Orban did not directly address the Novak controversy, he said that there should be no “mercy for paedophile offenders”.

“On behalf of the government, I have tabled a constitutional amendment to make it impossible to pardon the perpetrator of a crime against a minor child,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

He added that his first thought would be to cut anyone “in half or into pieces” if they were to touch one of his five children or six grandchildren.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies