The aims of the atheists regarding the Church do not change— they want to destroy it at all costs.
In the Stalinist era the idea was to destroy the Church physically. In 1946 arrests of bishops and priests began. In 1947, Bishop Vincentas Borisevičius was shot. In 1953, Archbishop Mečislovas Reinys, sentenced to twenty-five years, died in Vladimir Prison. In 1956, after ten years of concentration camp, Bishop Pranciškus Ramanauskas and Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis returned to Lithuania broken in health, but they were forbidden to exercise their office, and before long both died.
In 1956-57, hundreds of priests returned from concentration camp to resume their apostolic labors. The atheistic government began to realize that the Catholic Church of Lithuania will not be broken by repressions. Those who had died in concentration camp were considered martyrs, and some of them are even objects of religious devotion, e.g., Father T. B. Andruška, S.J.
Nikita Krushchev's "gallant" Chekists in 1957-58 again arrested no small number of priests: Father Petras Rauda, Canon Stanislovas Kiškis, Father T. A. Markaitis, S.J., Father Algirdas Močius, Father Jonas Balčiūnas, Father Antanas Jurgaitis, Father Antanas Bunkus, Father A. Svarinskas, Father Pranas Adomaitis, M.I.C. (who had worked among German Catholics in Siberia), and Father Petras Jakulevičius.
Except for Father Jurgaitis and Father Bunkus, all were imprisoned for the second time—Father Markaitis for the third.
Such violence brought no results this time either: Those arrested continued their apostolic endeavors in concentration camp, and upon their return to Lithuania, resumed pastoral work.
The atheistic government tried especially to wreck the Catholic Church from within—at the hands of the clergy and faithful themselves. The Commissioner for Religious Affairs promoted priests who were either inactive or subservient to the atheists. Most seriously affected was the urban ministry.
Moreover, the atheists tried to have the Vatican, poorly informed, promote certain undeserving clergy.
"Why does the Holy See hold such priests in esteem and why does it propose them as an example to the others?" asked the priests of Lithuania.
Not one priest was recognized for good pastoral work, with the possible exception of Canon Kazys Žitkus. Those bilking the Vatican wanted to disarm zealous priests psychologically and to embarrass the Roman Curia.
In the chanceries of Lithuanian dioceses a very bad habit has developed, of concealing everything from priests and people. The curtain of silence enveloping the chanceries has been pierced by disturbing rumors that the atheists are determined to liquidate once for all the bishops of Lithuania—the pride of the Faithful—His Excellency, Bishop Julius Steponavičius and His Excellency, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius. This blow to the Church in Lithuania the atheists could administer at the hands of the Vatican, if it appointed to the sees of the exiled bishops new candidates handpicked by the atheists themselves.
Mentioned among candidates for the episcopacy are: Monsignor Bronius Barauskas, Monsignor Česlovas Krivaitis, Canon Andriuko-nis, the Rev. Dr. Viktoras Butkus, Father Bernardas Baliukonis, Father Antanas Vaičius, and others.
The faithful of Lithuania have no doubt that it is not out of love that the atheists want to push through for bishoprics candidates lacking credibility among the believing public or among priests. The wishes of the faithful of Lithuania are best expressed in the words of Father Stasys Yla: "We want to see as bishop, not a mannekin in bishop's robes, but a human being, father and teacher."
This is borne out by the stacks of greetings sent to His Excellency, Bishop Sladkevičius, on the fifteenth anniversary of his enforced exile (March 17, 1974).
There is no doubt that the bishops in exile have been no less deserving than the bishops who are at their posts. It would be an irreparable blow to the prestige of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and to the Vatican if the bishops esteemed by the faithful were to be shunted aside.
Lithuania Today Needs Priests Rather than New Bishops
The atheistic government has left bishops the right to consecrate the oils, to ordain four to eight priests annually and to preside at priests' funerals. Even the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation and the appointment of priests to parishes is strictly controlled by the government.
Moreover, it is the wish of the atheists today to arrange the life of the Church in Lithuania in such a way that priests would become responsible not to the bishops, but to parish councils. This being the case, Lithuania has enough bishops for the present, and does not wish any more. If the atheistic government wants to show its good faith, it should allow the bishops in exile to return to their posts.
The priests and Catholic faithful of Lithuania pray that as much objective information as possible reach the Holy See concerning the plight of the Catholic Church in Lithuania; then the Holy Father will take care of her needs quite well, they feel.
The atheists, seeking to destroy the Faith, want to become the absolute arbiters of people's spiritual life, unobstructed from their ends by the people's belief in God or by religious ethics. Atheistic Marxism seeks to have all people think, speak, and act only in accord with the Communist party program.
The atheists, in their war against religion in Lithuania, are trying to break the spirit of the Lithuanian nation, to deprive it of spiritual values, to lower Lithuanian self-esteem, and acculturate the believing public. Once the Lithuanians have become atheists, have begun contracting mixed marriages, deprecating their Christian culture, conditions will be ripe for them to merge into a homogenous mass of people, all speaking the language of Lenin.
The people, however, are thoroughly disenchanted with Marxist Communism.
Students and intellectuals study Marxism only perforce. The atheistic government is forced to grasp at every ideological and administrative measure to control the people's spirit.
In Lithuania atheism has become the state religion, so to speak, served by the press, radio, television, and propagated by all means possible.
Not only teachers and educators are forced to spread atheism, but so is the entire intelligentsia. While libraries are full of atheistic literature, Catholics have practically none of their own, and what they have is confiscated by security police.
The Siberian katorga faces the book smugglers of today, like those of the Czarist era. During Czarist prohibition of the press things were easier, since the Czar did not have so many spies or traitors among the people.
The atheistic government is not satisfeid with propaganda, but also takes advantage of well-planned administrative measures. Attached to the Council of Ministers of the USSR is a Council on Religious Affairs, which officially sees that the laws governing religious cults be observed. In reality, this agency uses administrative means to war against religion throughout the Soviet Union.
In Lithuania there is an office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, which wages war on religion, adapted to local circumstances. In the capitals of the republics function councils for the coordination of atheistic action, whose affiliates are the regional atheistic councils, presided over by the vicechairperson of the regional executive committee.
Within the boundaries of the region, these vicechairpersons have almost unlimited authority to terrorize priests, interfering with the freedom of their work. Usually these interventions are made verbally, with the vicechairperson crushing in his hand some secret instruction drawn from the safe. The atheists have no desire to leave their shameful documents for history.
Every section of the country has its atheistic council, whose task is to organize atheistic action, to spy on the priests' work, on believers, etc.
The religious situation in Lithuania is assiduously watched by the Committee on State Security, since any more noticeable expression of religion is considered a threat to the Soviet government.
The present situation of the Catholic Church is causing deep concern both in the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and in the State Security Committee: Believers are going to church in great numbers, receiving the Sacraments, and are even daring to defend their rights.
Moscow demands that the atheists in Lithuania in their war on the Church make use of the means tested in Russia after the October Revolution. In Lithuania, however, the desired results are more difficult to achieve, since the headquarters of Catholics is not Moscow, but Rome.
The atheists have become convinced that it is easier to wreck the Church from within through manipulation of parish councils and through Church leadership amenable to the government.
According to the Soviet Constitution, the Church is separate from the state; but the state interferes in the affairs of the Church at every turn through the office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs and through parish councils, into which every effort is made to introduce persons as friendly to the atheists as possible, or even thoroughly reliable agents.
Church leaders immediately saw through this scheme of the atheists to paralyze pastoral work. Presently, the atheists are trying to introduce in Lithuania the same arrangement as in Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and elsewhere—Parish Councils must be the real administrators of the parish, and the priests, merely their employees.
The parish council must take care of financial matters, see to necessary repairs; to it believers must apply, to bury the dead, baptize children or to marry. Thus the attempt is made to frighten people away from religoius practice. Since the parish council would hire and fire priests, the functions of the bishop become meaningless, or worse—the bishop is left merely as a decoratoin so that the world might not see the conniving of the atheists behind the scenes.
Lately, priests in Lithuania, without their bishops' knowledge, are forced to accept new agreements of regional executive committees with parish councils. They are unilaterally and very vaguely formulated, especially wtih regard to the closing of the church. The fourth paragraph of the agreement says:
This agreement can be terminated. . . if, in accordance with established procedure it is decided to close the house of prayer (the worship facility), use of which was allowed by this agreement." The faithful cannot agree with any plan to close the church.
To forestall objections, the agreements are entered into secretly, at different times, and even by fraud. It is regrettable that priests themselves—to say nothing of the faithful—sometimes act without fully thinking through matters. Those priests who see through the connivances of the atheists, resist signing vaguely formulated agreements, and refuse to hand over church jurisdiction to parish council members intimidated by the atheists. Present agreements are the first step towards the final limitation of bishops' and priests' freedom of action.
Fortunately, the bishops have till now refused to agree to the unchurchly arrangements being pushed by the government. However, there are signs that new efforts will now be made to turn parish councils in Lithuania into all-powerful administrators of parishes. This has been mentioned by Commissioner Tarasov, of the Council of Religious Affairs.
Actions of parish councils in line with the atheists' plan completely contravene traditional ecclesiology, in which the right to govern comes not from the people, but from Christ himself. It is therefore not surprising that Church leaders since the Revolution itself have never agreed to such parish councils.
Victims of this struggle were: Bishop Ciepliakas, Monsignor-Elect Butkevičius, Bishop Matulionis, and others. Essentially, the bishops of Lithuania: Bishop Kazimieras Paltarokas, Bishop Reinys, et al., all refused to agree to such parish councils. Only when widespread closing of churches and arrests of clergy began, and when a few priests in the city of Vilnius treacherously made concessions, did the bishops accept the formation of parish councils. To date, however, these councils—with very few exceptions—have never directly interfered in the priests' work.
The atheists, taking a page out of the Czars' book, wish to use ecclesiastical leadership in their war against the Catholic Church. They try to place in responsible positions bishops cr priests submissive to the government, who would carry out directives detrimental to the Church, misinform the faithful world-wide about so-called fredom of the Church, and promulgate the regulations of the atheists government among the priests, to restrict the priests' work: the catechizing of children, canonical visitation of parishes, etc.
When they visit Rome our clergy submit to the government. In Moscow they are instructed what they are to say, what they are to keep secret, whom to associate with, and whom to avoid. Returning from the Vatican, they must make a "general confession" to the appropriate agencies.
At the present time among Lithuanian clergy there are widespread rumors that the Vatican might nominate new bishops proposed not by the faithful of Lithuania, but, through clergy currying favor with the regime, by the Council on Religious Affairs. If new bishops, subservient to the government were to be appointed, the atheists would have attained the following goals:
1. The authority of the Holy Father, which heretofore has been very strong among the faithful and priests of Lithuania, would be wrecked. The priests of Lithuania, even under the most difficult conditions, have shown their loyalty to the Apostolic See. Attempts by the atheists to create in Lithuania a national Catholic Church ignoring the jurisdiction of the pope failed. One priest sentenced to twenty-five years was offered his freedom, the pastorate of the Church of St. John in Vilnius, and a bribe of 100,000 rubles.
The Church of Silence will never understand the kind of diplomacy which would make it possible for the atheists to rejoice over the fact that the Vatican itself disagrees with those priests and laity who are struggling and suffering for the Faih. In return for diplomatic concessoins, the atheistic government can promise much, sign the most beautiful treaties, but these will remain a dead letter, like the Declaration of Human Rights, which the atheistic government signed.
The priests and faithful of Lithuania believe that if the bishops and Catholics of the world had reacted suitably in time, the life of Bishop Borisevičius (shot by the Communists in 1947 — Transí.) might have been saved. The same can be said of the mass arrests of priests. In this regard, we might learn from the example of the Communists world-wide, who so energetically defended Manoli Gle-za, Angela Davis, and now are still defending the Communists of Chile.
2. The bishops of Lithuania like Archbishop Matulevičius, Archbishop Matulionis, Archbishop Reinys, and others have won a high respect for episcopal authority in the estimation of the faithful. If the Holy See were to name unsuitable candidates as bishops, the authority of the bishops would be destroyed and great damage would be done to the Catholic Church in Lithuania.
3. The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania mentions only a small part of the facts, bearing witness to atheistic terror and the troubles of the faithful. It cannot compile more, because of persecution.
The faithful of Lithuania await support from their spiritual leaders. Meanwhile, clergy chosen by the government proclaim that our Church is not persecuted. How disappointed the faithful of Lithuania would be, if the Vatican were to increase the number of such priests!
4. The appointment of new bishops subservient to the government would be a moral blow to the bishops so highly respected by the people: the banished bishops Julius Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius. If this were to happen, their sacrifice would be demeaned; their very loyalty to the Holy Father and the Church condemned, and any possibility for them to return to their duties would be abolished.
5. When the atheistic government takes every possible advantage of ecclesiastical authorities, forcing them to publish regulations detrimental to pastoral work, it is easier for the priests of Lithuania to keep their bearings if the directives are signed not by a bishop, but simply by the administrator of the diocese.
The priests and faithful of Lithuania therefore humbly beseech the Holy Father and the Roman Curia:
a. not to appoint new bishops subservient to the atheists;
b. in appointing bishops, to ascertain the worth of a candidate by checking with the bishops in exile, or with priests duly authorized by them. This would be possible if the Vatican announced the names of candidates no less than six months prior to their nomination.
c) to make no diplomatic concessions to the atheists, based on trust in their good faith. No concessions can be expected from the atheists through bargaining—the Catholics of Lithuania will have just as much freedom as they win for themselves. This fact is borne out by more than one recent victory. The Catholics of Lithuania will be able to accomplish something only when they receive broad support from world public opinion and the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy.
The Catholics of Lithuania are grateful to those responsible for the broadcasts of Radio Vatican, to the Lithuanian press abroad, and to the Catholic and non-Catholic press world-wide, for publicizing the wrongs perpetrated by the atheists in Lithuania, and to all who pray or take action that the Catholics of Lithuania might have more religious freedom. It is regrettable that the Voice of America pays no heed to this matter. It is therefore not surprising that its broadcasts ar listened to very little. It is difficult to get a Lithuanian interested in economic crises or political affairs when he is suffering for his faith.
The faithful of Lithuania, painfully undergoing the raging of the security organs, when one after another of the best sons of the nation and of the Church find themselves in prison, are surprised that till now the Catholics of the world have not come to the defense of those in prison. The atheistic government hopes that if the world remains silent, it can more easily "take care" of them.