BUDAPEST — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of 18 churches that have been added to the list of formally recognized churches by Hungary's new coalition government.
A spokesperson for the LDS Church verified that the recognition has taken place, but said the church would not be commenting on it.
The Associated Press reported that the LDS Church is joined on the final approved list by "five Buddhist groups, Methodists, Jehovah's Witnesses ... and two Islamic communities."
The new list of officially recognized churches was approved by a two-thirds majority of the Hungarian Parliament. Sixty-six other petitioning religious groups were rejected, which means they will be allowed to function as associations in Hungary and can reapply for recognition next year.
"Formal recognition gives churches tax-free status, qualifies them for government support and allows them to collect donations during services and do pastoral work in jails and hospitals," the AP reported.
Part of Hungary's new constitution that went into effect Jan. 1, the new church law has generated international controversy. Critics claim that it restricts and politicizes religious freedom. Supporters of the law say that it is needed to filter out businesses that have been masquerading as churches. Under the law, only 14 Christian and Jewish congregations were granted official status. This latest action expands that list to 32 churches, although a total of 82 churches, congregations and religious groups petitioned Parliament for formal recognition status.
For the LDS Church, the recognition continues a journey of growth and expansion in Hungary that has accelerated during the past 20 years. Although LDS missionaries began proselyting in Hungary as early as 1885, few converts joined the church during those early years. A branch of the church was established in Budapest in 1976, but the branch was disbanded two years later due to government restrictions. Missionaries were allowed to work in the country again in 1986, and on June 1, 1988, the church was given full recognition by the government. The first Hungarian meetinghouse was dedicated in 1989.
The Hungary Budapest Mission of the LDS Church was created in 1990, and the Book of Mormon was published in Hungarian in 1991. At that time, there were about 75 members of the church worshipping in several small congregations. Fewer than 15 years later, church membership in Hungary had grown to 4,147. In 2006, the Budapest Hungary Stake — an ecclesiastical unit consisting of a number of congregations, similar to a Catholic diocese — was created.
As of Jan. 1, 2011, LDS membership statistics indicate there were 4,738 Latter-day Saints in Hungary living in 22 individual church congregations.
(The Associated Press also contributed to this story.)