Small Steps on a Path of Coercion

The successor of bishop Miklós Dudás was appointed after two and a half years of negotiations. The prolongation of the process did not cause a surprise because this was the first occasion during the communist era for the appointing  of a Greek Catholic bishop. The communist system, which in theory supported the separation of the Church from the state and even included this idea in the Constitution, did exactly the opposite in practice and insisted on exercising its feudal right of patronage. Obviously the government would only allow for the appointment of a priest as bishop, who had demonstrated appropriate loyalty to the government of the People’s Republic and its social system. After long negotiations, Pope Paul VI on 10 January 1975 appointed Imre Timkó, vicar of the cathedral chapter, as Bishop of Hajdúdorog and the Administrator of the Exarchate of Miskolc. At the same time the Pope appointed  canon Szilárd Keresztes, assistant bishop next to the eparchial bishop and gave him the title of Bishop of Kunávia. Contemporaries believed that the dual appointment was the result of a compromise between the Holy See and the Hungarian state, and that the bishop had been the candidate of the state and the assistant had been supported by the Holy See. There can be little doubt that Szilárd Keresztes, assistant bishop, was better known by the Holy See. He had studied as a seminarist at Pontifical Hungarian Ecclesiastical Institute and had been a student of theology in the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome from 1966 and 1969. Indeed, it was even rumored that during his visit to Rome in 1968 bishop Miklós Dudás had introduced him as to the Eastern Congregation as a possible assistant bishop and potential successor. We also know today, however, that Szilárd Keresztes’ studies in Rome and his subsequent career advancement had come at a serious price. He had surrendered to the efforts of the state security services, “hesitatingly, and after long persuasion,” and after 1966 he served as an informer and agent. During the 1970s a conception that today appears naive had become commonplace in Hungary and within the Greek Catholic Church, namely that the bishop was the state’s man and the assistant bishop was the Vatican’s. The reality remained that everything was still under state control, and the state squeezed with an iron fist everyone, who had been selected for leading positions in the Church, or whom the Holy See had allowed to be appointed. The development of the Holy See’s Eastern policy influenced considerably the behavior of all of the priests selected for leadership. The partial settlement of 1964, the declaration that the Archbishopric of Esztergom was vacant, and the deposition of Cardinal Mindszenty, and the appointment of László Lékai in 1974, all indicated the acceptance of the policy of small steps by the Holy See and that Rome did not expect strident resistance against the communist system.
The consecration of the new bishops took place in Nyíregyháza on 8 February 1975. During the Saint Liturgy in the morning, Joachim Szegedi, Assistant Bishop of Kőrös, consecrated Imre Timkó and was assisted by József Ijjas and József Bánk, the Archbishops of Eger and Kalocsa respectively. In the afternoon the new eparchial bishop consecrated Szilárd Keresztes as bishop, with the participation of Joachim Szegedi and the Bishop of Pécs József Cserháti. Originally they had planned for the consecration of the bishops together but Szilárd Keresztes specifically asked that he be consecrated by the eparchial bishop Imre Timkó in order to reduce speculation over the previously mentioned conflict.
In his inaugural sermon, the new bishop unveiled a program of liturgical renewal in which the Eastern traditions, the Hungarian characteristics, and the demands of the time must be brought into harmony. Among the most important tasks he emphasized the improvement in the formation of the priests and making the necessary investments to this end.
Bishop Imre Timkó wanted to solve the problem of dividing the tasks between himself and the assistant bishop by appointing Szilárd Keresztes, protosyncellus of diaspora parishes and vicar for the Miskolc Apostolic Exarchate. The friction noticeable at the time of their appointment necessarily led to conflicts and factions, which abated during the last years of Imre Tomkó’s tenure as bishop. The solution of the problems was made more difficult by the fact that the State Office of Church Affairs, which held ecclesiastical life under total surveillance, not only received a role in the settlement of problems but in reality came to occupy the highest forums in the Church. At the beginning of his term the eparchial bishop undoubtedly required the strengthening of his legitimacy. The Holy See offered help in this by responding to bishop Imre Timkó’s initiative and sending archbishop Mario Brini, Secretary of the Eastern Congregation, to Hungary in September 1975. Together with his entourage, he participated in the pilgrimage to Máriapócs on the Nativity of the Theotokos on September 8.
One of the important parts of bishop Imre Timkó’s program was investment in the infrastructural base for the forming of the priests. The permissions provided by the state authorities did not cover the construction of a new building for the seminary but it did allow for the reconstruction of the bishop’s residence and the free use of the courtyard. The financial foundations were established by the relatively inexpensive sale of the property on Sóstói Road, which had been built by bishop Dudás and nationalized by the state. The negotiations between the bishop and the Town Council were completed, “Thanks to God’s grace and the good intentions of our government,” in the words of the bishop in his account of the developments, by December 1975. The amount provided by the state for the project did not prove to be sufficient, and so the bishop received permission to travel to the United States and ask for the assistance of the Greek Catholics there. The goal for the first stage of the construction, which began in 1977, was the erection of a building complex of eight apartments for the leaders of the seminary and the priests serving at the center of the eparchy  in the court yard of the bishop’s residence. These were ready for use by the middle of 1978. Then came the renovation of the building that was used for the seminary and theologiacal college. It was consecrated in 1980. During August of the following year the chapel of the seminary, which had been constructed in the Byzantine style and was considered unique at that time, was consecrated. Characteristically for that era, the construction permit described it as a “place of liturgical practice.” The new buildings squeezed into a remarkably narrow area accurately symbolized the situation of our Church during the Kádár era. One could develop and move slightly forward but only between high walls and cut off from society and the inhabitants of the town.
In addition to improving the infrastructure for the forming of priests, bishop Imre Timkó paid particular attention to the improvement of the level of education. In these efforts he relied especially on two important documents of the Second Vatican Council: the resolutions on the Eastern Catholic Churches and on the forming of clergy. The signs strengthening a return to the Eastern traditions also appeared in the education of the clergy, such as the Eastern style cassock, as well as the modernization of the course of studies by the inclusion of the centralised theological notes, which had been edited by Szilárd Keresztes, assistant bishop, since 1972. The reduction of compulsory military service to one and a half years in 1982 made matters somewhat easier. Beginning with 1965 the state compelled even seminary students to fulfill two years of military service, which were to be performed at the designated and notorious so-called “first step” barracks in Lenti, Nagyatád and Marczali.  In addition to national defense, the military service was designed for ideological transformation and the determination of who might be suitable as an informant on the Church. The political officers active in the barracks were able to divert several seminarists from their priestly vocation, and two of them, György Legaza and János Járási suffered such serious injuries during their military service that they were unable to continue their theological studies. The reduction in the time of military service allowed for the implementation of a half-year preparatory course for future priests. István Pregun, who had taken over the leadership of the theological college and seminary from Béla Bacsóka in 1984, continued in this capacity until the years after the collapse of communism.
The highly learned bishop took care to prepare an accounting of the many art objects and books, often in the possession of the various parishes and often in danger of being lost or damaged, and to collect them. In 1983, he established the Collection of Church Art and also supported the efforts of the experts of the Lajos Kossuth University in Debrecen to research old ecclesiastical books. He also made sure that the eparchial library and archive were properly housed. 
In the area of pastoral work, a very narrowly restricted sphere, he tried to improve service for the basic needs of the faithful. He founded four new parishes in the Vicariate of Diaspora parishes, namely Csepel, Rákoskeresztúr, Újpest, and Pécs. The internal migration had gradually increased the number of faithful living in the diaspora parishes, and the pastoral needs of the Greek Catholics received new momentum when the jurisdiction of the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog was permanently extended to the whole country, as well as by the establishment of the Budapest Eparchial Vicariate and the Budapest Deanery District. 
Two important events marked the last years of his service as bishop. In 1987, the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of its foundation. The celebrations in Hajdúdorog and in Máriapócs were honored by the presence of distinguished foreign visitors. Tamás Dolinay, Bishop of Van Nuys in the United States, was present at Hajdúdorog, and Simon Duraisamy, Cardinal of Lourdusamy, and Archbishop Apostolic nuncio Francesco Colasuonno, the Prefect of the Eastern Congregation, attended Máriapócs. A memorial volume, edited by the eparchial bishop, was prepared on the jubilee. Its chapters brought to life the stations of the eparchy’s historical development.
The bishop was committed to ecumenical dialogue. He had expressed this at the time of his appointment in his episcopal motto, “Katholiké – Oikumené.” One of the beautiful results of Hungary’s ecumenical movement, the first official conference of the Catholic Church and the Hungarian Churches’ Ecumenical Council, which took place in December 1987 in the Ráday College, was in part the fruit of his efforts.
Bishop Imre Timkó died on the Wednesday before Easter, 30 March 1988. His death caught the clergy and faithful of his eparchy unaware. He was buried in the presence of many of the members of the Conference of bishops on 8 April, during the week after Easter.
Unlike his predecessor and successor, every day of Imre Timkó’s service as bishop came under the communist system. He began his clerical career during the years of the communist seizure of power. His career was dominated and limited by the need to accommodate the state authorities, a need, which, of necessity, became increasingly routine. His service as bishop was on a coerced path from which he had no hope of leaving. These dominant facts, which weighed most heavily with their destructive force on the bishop, cannot be ignored when considering the entirety of Bishop Timkó’s service. The government of the eparchy was assumed by his assistant bishop Szilárd Keresztes. For obvious reasons, this time the selection of a successor did not take years. Practically everyone considered the only possible choice as successor to be Szilárd Keresztes, who was selected as bishop on 6 July 1988. The new bishop was installed on 30 July. He named as his protosyncellus Pál Bacsóka, for the Eparchy of Hajdúdorog, and Miklós Béres, for the Exarchate of Miskolc. Bishop Szilárd Keresztes selected for the theme of his inaugural speech from the day’s Gospel reading. “Truly, I say to you unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matth. 18/3) The developments underway in the country promised and required changes. By this time János Kádár, who ended his life a year later asking for a priest and the opportunity to confess his sins, had left office. ..A few days after the installation of Szilárd Keresztes as bishop, the official invitation to Hungary by the Hungarian government of Pope John Paul II was announced. During the following months the system collapsed like a house of cards and with stunning speed. Its seeming indestructibility had created such fears in so many people. The process of democratic transformation began in Hungary, which was filled with many pitfalls and disappointments but still offered the beginning of a new era for society and the Church.