The Apostolic See and the Consequences of the Treaty of Trianon in the Church Administration

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Krisztina Tóth

The volume was prepared to commemorate worthily the centenary of the Treaty of Trianon that ended the First World War for Hungary and was signed in the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles on the 4th June 1920. This tragic event of the Hungarian history had long term effects also on the Catholic church organization. Namely, twelve dioceses became divided by the new borders, thirteen got completely or except for one parish abroad – if we add to the numbers also the church province of Zagreb –, and only four remained entirely within the Hungarian Kingdom.

The Apostolic See assured János Csernoch, the primate of Hungary, who visited Rome in July 1920, that no negotiations would start as regards the new circumscription of the dioceses following the boarders until a six month period would pass after the ratification of the treaty and no decision would be made unless all the interested parties were heard. In the dioceses that got entirely abroad, either new bishops were appointed instead of the expelled and resigned ones or the former bishops continued to administer their dioceses until their death. At the same time, on the head of those dioceses that became divided between two or three countries the Holy See often appointed apostolic administrators that meant a temporary solution. It happened not to fuel Hungarian hopes that the borders might not be definitive, but to foster the general interests of the Catholic Church, ensure the satisfactory management of the assets, and to serve the spiritual good of the faithful.

Had the Holy See drawn the borders of the dioceses according to the frontiers shortly after the Treaty of Trianon was signed, it would have risked the pastoral care and the sequestration of the assets of those territories that extended beyond the boarders and did not have enough dotation to be arranged in an independent diocese. Besides, it would have taken the risk of losing the benevolence towards the Catholic Church of the party – the given state – that felt offended by the measures. Their positive attitude was particularly important, because at the beginning of the 1920s there weren’t valid agreements between the successor states and the Catholic Church. Since the number of those dioceses that were not affected by the treaty was minimal, a common arrangement along the boarders would have required the complete transformation of the church structure that could not be accomplished overnight. As practice shows, negotiations with a country could take more than ten years and even then might not lead to a satisfactory solution for all the concerned parties.

The successor states intended to have a say not only in the appointment of bishops, but also those of the apostolic administrators of the rump dioceses, though they did not have any legal basis or former legal custom to it. Naturally, the Holy See could ask them out of politeness or ecclesiastical interest whether they had any political objection against the candidate and it occurred that the governments expressed their displeasure against one or two nominees whom they considered inappropriate from political reasons. Moreover, the withdrawal of the enemy troops was delayed: Serbian troops kept under occupation the southern counties of Hungary from November 1918 and these territories remained under their control until August 1921. In addition, the border-determining committees continued their work until 1925. As the example of Sopron and some surrounding settlements show, which decided about their belonging on a referendum in 1921, if the Holy See had decided to arrange the borders of the dioceses according to the political frontiers immediately after the treaty, it could have occurred that they would have had to rearrange them in a short time. This explains the waiting, the delay in the new diocesan border demarcation and the talks with the governments.

The present study reveals primarily with the help of sources from the Vatican Archives the background of the decisions of the Holy See regarding the church governance of the dioceses that got entirely abroad and the rump dioceses examining them one after another, and enriches with new details the existing literature.