The president of Hungary stepped down on Saturday following backlash to her pardon of a man who had been convicted of concealing sexual abuse of children.
Katalin Novák, 46, delivered a televised message on Saturday that she would throw in the towel after a Friday street protest against her pardoning decision.
“I issued a pardon that caused bewilderment and unrest for many people,” Novák said Saturday.
Novák has served as president since 2022 and was the former family minister under conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“I made a decision to grant a pardon last April, believing that the convict did not abuse the vulnerability of children whom he had overseen. I made a mistake as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were suitable to trigger doubts over the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” Novák said.
According to Reuters, at least 1,000 people protested in Hungary’s capital, Budapest, on Friday demanding the resignation of Novák over her decision to pardon a man convicted as an accomplice for helping cover up a sex abuse case in a children’s home.
Novák was in Doha at the time of the protest, according to a post on her X account.
She posted a message on X to her over 121,000 followers about her meeting in Doha regarding the World Aquatic Championships. Novák did not address the pardon on X. She was forced to cut short her trip to Qatar and return to Budapest to address the mushrooming scandal.
Novák had decided to pardon some two dozen people in April 2023, ahead of a visit by Pope Francis, among them the deputy director of a children’s home who had helped the former director of the home hide his crimes.
The director was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing several under-age boys from 2004 to 2016. The deputy director had been sentenced to more than three years.
Fox News Digital’s requests for comment to Hungary’s government were not immediately returned.
Hungarian opposition parties also demanded Novák’s resignation. Protesters held signs stating, “Resign” at the Friday demonstration. “Resignation would be a very correct thing to do,” said Bela Sedan, 53, who works as a carpenter.
“Someone who makes a mistake like this should go away and not represent me as president of the Hungarian Republic.”
Trying to contain the political fallout from the scandal, Orban, whose Fidesz party is beginning the campaign for European Parliament elections in June, submitted a constitutional amendment to parliament late on Thursday depriving the president of the right to pardon crimes committed against children.
“The pardoning decision of the president of the republic has prompted a debate. This debate must be closed in a way that reassures all Hungarians,” the text of the bill says.
On Saturday, Orban’s former justice minister, Judit Varga — who was expected to lead Fidesz’s list for the elections, and who had also signed off on the pardon — said on Facebook that she would step down as a Fidesz MP, taking responsibility for the decision.
Orban and Fidesz won a stunning fourth-term election victory in 2022.
“The entire world can see that our brand of Christian democratic, conservative, patriotic politics has won,” Orbán told his supporters after his 2022 victory. He added, “We are sending Europe a message that this is not the past – this is the future.”
In October, Orban compared Hungary’s membership in the European Union to the over forty years of Soviet communist occupation of Hungary. Orban, who advocates traditional values, promotes a policy of restricted immigration and is opposed to the absorption of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report.