József Mindszenty [jo:ʒɛf mindsɛnti] (29 March 1892 – 6 May 1975) was the Prince Primate, Archbishop of Esztergom, cardinal, and leader of the Catholic Church in Hungary from 2 October 1945 to 18 December 1973. For five decades, he personified uncompromising opposition to fascism and communism in Hungary in support of religious freedom. During World War II, he was imprisoned by the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party. After the war, he opposed communism and the communist persecution in his country. As a result, he was tortured and given a life sentence in a 1949 show trial that generated worldwide condemnation, including a United Nations resolution. After eight years in prison, he was freed in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and granted political asylum by the United States embassy in Budapest, where Mindszenty lived for the next fifteen years. He was finally allowed to leave the country in 1971. He died in exile in 1975 in Vienna, Austria.
On 30 October 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Mindszenty was released from prison. He returned to Budapest the next day. On 2 November, he praised the insurgents. The following day, he made a radio broadcast in favour of recent anti-communist developments.
When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary on 4 November 1956 to restore the communist government, Cardinal Mindszenty sought Imre Nagy's advice, and was granted political asylum at the United States embassy in Budapest. Mindszenty lived there for the next 15 years, unable to leave the grounds, and did not participate in the conclaves of 1958 and 1963.
György Aczél, the communist official in charge of all cultural and religious matters in Hungary, felt increasingly uncomfortable about the situation in the late 1960s when Mindszenty fell seriously ill and rumors spread about the priest's impending martyrdom. Yet Aczél failed to convince party leader János Kadar that freeing Mindszenty would create valuable confusion in the Vatican and allow the state to better control the remaining clergy.
Mindszenty's presence was also an inconvenience to the US government because the Budapest embassy was already overcrowded, his quarters took valuable floor space, and a permit for expansion could not be obtained from the Hungarian authorities unless he was expelled.
Eventually, Pope Paul VI offered a compromise: declaring Mindszenty a "victim of history" (instead of communism) and annulling the excommunication imposed on his political opponents. The Hungarian government allowed Mindszenty to leave the country on 28 September 1971. Beginning on 23 October 1971, he lived in Vienna, Austria, as he took offence at Rome's advice that he should resign from the primacy of the Catholic Church in Hungary in exchange for uncensored publication of his memoirs backed by the Vatican. Although most bishops retire at or near age 75, Mindszenty continually denied rumors of his resignation, and he was not canonically required to step down at the time.
In December 1973, at the age of 81, Mindszenty was stripped of his titles by the Pope, who declared the Archdiocese of Esztergom officially vacated, but refused to fill the seat while Mindszenty was still alive. Mindszenty died on 6 May 1975, at the age of 83, in exile in Vienna. In early 1976, the Pope made Bishop László Lékai the primate of Hungary, ending a long struggle with the communist government.