Pardon Me

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Hungary’s president resigned live on television Saturday after a scandal erupted over her decision to pardon a man accused of child sexual abuse, a decision that has caused a setback for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s party, the BBC reported.

Over the past week, opposition parties and protesters have demanded that Katalin Novak, a close ally of Orbán, step down after reports in Hungarian media that she had granted a presidential pardon to a former deputy director of a state children’s home.

The man was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 for forcing children to retract abuse claims against the institution’s director, who himself was handed an eight-year sentence for abusing at least 10 children between 2004 and 2016.

The deputy director was among 25 people pardoned by Novak during a visit by Pope Francis to Hungary in April 2023. Since the list was made public last week, she has faced mounting pressure to resign while denying any wrongdoing and refusing to provide a formal explanation for the pardon, the Associated Press wrote.

The president’s decision and comments caused outrage in Hungary and dismayed survivors of the sexual abuse in this case. In parliament, the opposition launched an ethics probe against the president, while Orbán proposed to amend the constitution to bar people convicted of child abuse from receiving presidential pardons.

The scandal has been awkward for Orbán’s Fidesz party, which has ruled Hungary with a nationalist, conservative agenda placing traditional family values at the center of its social policy.

Nonetheless, in an address live on television on Saturday evening, Novak apologized for the pardon, calling it a “mistake” that “(triggered) doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” and announced her resignation.

Novak became the first female president of Hungary in 2022. Though the position is for the most part ceremonial, she remained a popular figure in Fidesz.

Following the uproar, another key female member of the party stepped down. Judit Varga, who was the justice minister at the time of the presidential pardon and approved it, quit her position as leader of Fidesz’s campaign for this year’s European elections.

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