114. Telegram From the Embassy in Hungary to the Department of State1

785. Subject: Cardinal Mindszenty.

[Page 276]
During my May 13 meeting with him, Foreign Minister Peter raised the subject of Cardinal Mindszenty on his own initiative.2 He said he was not at liberty to interpret or disclose what the Pope said during his conversation with him in Rome.3 He had been much impressed with the Pope as a man of great vision and high intelligence. Peter said, however, he was at liberty to say what he had said to the Pope, in confidence of course. He had told the Pope that the GOH was prepared for a real solution to the Mindszenty problem. He said his government acknowledged that it was a problem for Hungary and for the Vatican, as well as for the American Embassy, as long as the Cardinal was in the Embassy. He said he had told the Pope there are two conditions the Hungarians would have to insist upon for arriving at a solution of this problem. The first was that the Cardinal not be used to disturb relations between church and state in Hungary. The second was that the Cardinal not be used for cold war purposes against Hungary.
Peter asked me at this point whether I knew that Monsignor Cheli had recently been in Budapest. (By “recently” he appeared to mean within the last two weeks and in any case probably after Peterʼs visit to Rome.) I replied in the negative. Peter said Cheli had come here to talk with Hungarian officials. He said he brought no new proposals but intended to present a solution of the Mindszenty problem to the Hungarian Government within two or three weeks.
I told the Foreign Minister I appreciated his frankness. I said I also appreciated the fact that he acknowledged something which I had not heard Hungarian officials acknowledge before, namely, that the Cardinal was a problem for the Hungarian Government and the Vatican as well as to us.4 In the past the Hungarian view had been he was a problem only to the American Embassy. I said I was glad to see that we were reaching some sort of agreement at least on the dimensions of the problem and whom it concerned. I said I wished to reciprocate the candor with which he had spoken. I frankly saw little hope of a solution because of the Cardinalʼs strong feelings regarding his position as a Hungarian, as primate, and his concern over his place in history. I mentioned in this connection his memoirs and said I trusted the Hungarian [Page 277] Government was prepared at some date in the future for the appearance of his memoirs.
The Foreign Minister said that while he couldnʼt interpret what the Pope had said he could tell me that the Pope was anxious for a solution of this problem. He urged the greatest confidence upon me, and said the Pope also had come to the conclusion that Cardinal Mindszenty should not spend his remaining days in Hungary. He added he also had had the impression from the Pope that Cardinal Mindszentyʼs resistance to leaving the American Embassy and Hungary had diminished somewhat.
I said I could not confirm the latter statement in any way. Of course I may not have information which the Holy See has, but my own impression is that this is not accurate. I also said that as far as we were concerned, the Cardinal could remain in our Embassy. I was, however, concerned with the difficulties that might ensue if he should be the victim of a lingering illness which required medical assistance of the sort we could not render.
Peter acknowledged this potential difficulty. He concluded the conversation by saying he wished to repeat that his government was prepared for a workable solution but the two conditions he had mentioned earlier would have to be met. He had great confidence in the ability of the Vatican to assure the fulfillment of these conditions.
Comment: Peter is a slippery character, and what he told me should be looked at with caution. He certainly conveyed more movement on the Mindszenty problem than I have seen in the past two years with, if he can be believed, a fair amount of understanding between the Hungarian Government and the Vatican as to what is to be done. The Cheli visit to Budapest, apparently following closely on Peterʼs visit to Rome, suggests desire on both sides to pursue the question actively. Peter talked quite firmly of the Vaticanʼs presenting a “solution” of the problem shortly, and his confidence in the Vaticanʼs ability to assure fulfillment of the Hungarian conditions is noteworthy. Our role at this stage is a passive one but it would be helpful at least to have some idea of what the Vatican has in mind. Department and Ambassador Lodge comments requested.5
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 693, Country Files, Europe, Hungary, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis.
  2. See Document 115.
  3. Peter met with the Pope on April 16. In telegram 2569 from Rome, April 26, the Embassy reported that Pope Paul raised the Mindszenty situation and the Vaticanʼs desire to see it resolved in the context of a global solution of outstanding church-state issues. Peter replied that his government wanted the Vatican to impose “absolute silence” on the Cardinal as its price for settlement. Pope Paul replied that “it would be difficult to comply.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 HUNG)
  4. Puhan discusses the problems created by Mindszentyʼs presence in the U.S. Embassy in Cardinal in the Chancery, pp. 185–214.
  5. According to Puhan, Cardinal in the Chancery, p. 199, he received further instructions and the views of Lodge in Washington in June during his consultations following home leave.