Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigns amid uproar over pardon in sex abuse case

Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned Saturday amid a controversy over a pardon she granted last year ahead of a visit by Pope Francis. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Hungarian President Katalin Novak resigned Saturday following backlash over her decision last year to pardon the former head of a children's shelter who allowed a child sex offender to prey on young residents.

Novak abruptly ended her trip to Qatar on Saturday and flew back to Budapest amid heated protests in the nation's capital, where she apologized in a televised address and vowed to step down as head of state.

"I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people," Novak said. "I made a mistake."

Novak's decision to grant pardons to about 20 individuals was seen at the time as a goodwill gesture ahead of Pope Francis' visit to Hungary in April 2023.

However, only it recently become known that Novak had extended clemency to the deputy director of a children's home who was convicted of concealing an abuser's predatory behavior.

"In April last year, I decided in favor of clemency in the belief that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of the children entrusted to him," she said in her address. "I was wrong, because the clemency decision and the lack of justification were suitable for raising doubts about the zero tolerance for pedophilia."

In a related announcement, Hungary's European Affairs Committee chair Judit Varga announced her retirement from Parliament and "from public life," despite being the top candidate to lead the ruling Fidesz Party in the European Parliamentary elections later this year.

"I take political responsibility for countersigning the President's decision," she said in a statement, according to Hungary Today. "I am retiring from public life, resigning my seat as a member of Parliament and also as leader of the EP list."

Varga, the former justice minister, signed off on Novak's pardons last year and faced fierce opposition from lawmakers who insisted that she should be held accountable along with the president.