József Cardinal Mindszenty, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Esztergom and Prince-Primate of Hungary, was arrested in Budapest on December 27, 1948, by order of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior. He was charged with attempting to overthrow the Hungarian state, treason, and various unlawful currency transactions.
At his press and radio news conference on December 29, 1948, Acting Secretary of State Robert A. Lovett was asked to comment on the arrest of Cardinal Mindszenty. The official account of his reply is as follows:
“Mr. Lovett said that this was a culmination of a long series of oppressive acts taken by the Hungarian Government against personal freedoms, human freedoms and now religious freedom. He said that this had been going on for some time and now had reached a climax in the arrest of the Cardinal and a number of others. He declared that it was rather a sickening sham to have that action taken on the basis of charges which were patently false and he said that he thought that it must affect the attitude of other countries to know that this sort of thing could go on. He declared that it had by extension, of course, another significance, in that what was going on in many of the countries of that belief and character was a type of behavior, a type of action which continued to interfere with reaching the goal of peace and made it still an aspiration rather than a reality. He said that he should think that this particular action would be all that was needed to complete the unhappy chain of events in that country and to indicate what the attitude of the government was toward the liberties which the rest of the world attaches the greatest importance to.” (News Division Files)
At his news conference on December 30, President Truman stated that he was in agreement with the Acting Secretary’s remarks about the Mindszenty arrest; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, 1948 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1964), page 968.
In a memorandum of February 1 for the Secretary of State, Walworth Barbour, Chief of the Division of Southern European Affairs, stated that the Department of State had received 11,000 letters, a number of which had requested that the United States Government protest formally to the Hungarian Government and take action in the United [Page 452] Nations. The Department had replied by drawing attention to the Acting Secretary’s statement on December 29 and giving assurances that it was prepared to take any steps in the matter that might appear appropriate (864.404/2–149).
The trial of Cardinal Mindszenty and six co-defendants was held in Budapest, February 3–5, 1949. The verdict was announced on February 8. The Cardinal was found guilty of the charges of conspiracy against the state, treason, and illegal currency transactions and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The other defendants were also found guilty and were sentenced to various terms in prison ranging from life to three years. For the official record of the trial, see The Trial of József Mindszenty (Budapest: The Hungarian State Publishing House, 1949).