Hungarian President Katalin Novak has announced that she is resigning from office following mounting public criticism over her decision to pardon a man implicated in a child sexual abuse case.
“I decided to grant a pardon last April, believing that the convict did not exploit the vulnerability of the children whom he had overseen,” Novak said in her speech during a national televised address on Saturday.
“I made a mistake, as the pardon and the lack of reasoning were conducive to triggering doubts about the zero tolerance that applies to pedophilia,” she said.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the country’s capital Budapest on Friday, calling for Novak to step down.
In April 2023, Novak had pardoned some two dozen people ahead of a visit by Pope Francis – among them the deputy director of a children’s home who had helped the former director hide his crimes. The director was sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually abusing underaged boys between 2004 and 2016, Reuters reported.
The deputy director received a three-year sentence.
Novak was away on an official visit to Doha when protesters arrived at her office, according to Reuters.
Hungarian opposition parties have demanded Novak’s resignation.
Novak is a close ally of Hungary’s hardline nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán and was the former family minister. In 2022, she became the first woman to hold the largely ceremonial role of Hungarian president.
Saturday’s address was her final one as president, less than two years after she took office.
She apologized to victims and their families in her televised speech on Saturday, saying she had “made a mistake.”
Her apology was “to those whom I may have offended and to all the victims who might have felt that I did not stand up for them,” Novak said, adding that she had always “consistently advocated for the protection of children and families.”