To: The Secretary General of the Central Committee of the Com-Communist Party of the Soviet Union1
The Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs of the Soviet Union
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR The Deputy of the Council for Religious Affairs of Lithuania The Chanceries of the Dioceses of the Church in Lithuania
From: The Rev. Karolis Garuckas2 resident of the Rayon of Ignalina, Village of Ceikiniai
The Soviet press quite often carries antireligious articles. Some are personal in nature, while others are written by officials as if to explain Soviet laws. Among the latter should be included the article by the Deputy of the Council for Religious Affairs, K. Tumėnas, "Freedom of Conscience and Soviet Law" (Tiesa, November 22, 1974). This article raises a number of questions because reality shows something quite different.
1According to the editors of the Chronicle, this letter has been abbreviated slightly. Several concrete examples of regime pressure on the church have been ommitted.
2The author of this letter The Rev. Karolis Garuckas, is among the more prominent dissident priests, a member of the Lithuanian group to monitor the implementation of the Helsinki accords.
3Church committees as parish governing bodies were resisted by the Catholic hierarchy ever since the Soviet regime began demanding their formation in the 1940's. With the rise of religious dissent in the 1970's, the regime has sought to strengthen the governing role of the committees and to establish a tighter control over them by the local authorities (e.g., through confirmation of committee members). The deputy chairman of the executive committee of a rayon is the local overseer of religious bodies. It remains to be seen if the committees can be transformed into obedient instruments of the regime.
The civil government requires that church committees be organized, even though Church law makes no mention of such committees.3 At the direction of the government, such church committees are to be elected by the faithful. However, officials of the rayon government try to take them over, striking from church committee rosters individuals they do not trust, even though these persons have never been guilty of any crime.
For example, in 1964, the authorities of Ignalina failed to approve the following individuals for the church committee of Ceikiniai: Deputies V. Talunčius, and V. Valėnaitė, and the road-builder A. Garla. So, even though Tumėnas writes that "citizens, regardless of their views, enjoy equal rights ... to participate in elections and to be elected," the government of therayon does not recognize these rights. The Deputy Chairman of the Executive Committee of the rayon, A. Vaitonis, has often threatened to dissolve the present church committee of Ceikiniai. It is similar in other parishes as well. From what has been said above, one gets the impression that government officials are demanding church committees in order to use them for their own purposes—to destroy the Faith.
The article says that "The state does not interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups" and that "ministers and religious communities may be involved in religious activity."
Does the state not "interfere in the internal affairs of religious groups" when government officials, without cause, transfer priests and exile bishops; limit the number of candidates for the seminary, rejecting those who do not suit the civil government; and when they try to recruit them to spy for the atheists?
During funerals in some cities, it is forbidden to transport the deceased to a church or to accompany the remains to the cemetery with priests in attendance. In many places, it is forbidden to toll the church bells. Without rayon permission, priests are forbidden to help out out in other churches; in many places the priest is forbidden to minister to the sick in hospitals.
Although Canon Law requires them to, bishops are not allowed to visit every parish during each five-year period and to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation there. In 1973, the Alanta, in Šilalė (even though everything had been confirmed with the government in advance) a couple of days before the date set for Confirmation, after everything had been prepared and announced to the people beforehand, the government withdrew permission to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation.
"It is forbidden. . . it is impossible ... it is not allowed . . ."-That is how "the state does not interfere in the affairs of the church."
Officials of the civil government examine church books and reprimand us if the records are not kept in accordance with all the rules of bookkeeping. Priests are forbidden to sit on the church committee, and ordinary people do the best they can with the parish books.
The interference of government officials in keeping the parish books would be understandable if any of the faithful complained. After all, in a family in which the husband and wife get along well together, the state does not interfere in their financial affairs and does not ask how much money was spent where.
The state does not allot one kopek for the upkeep of churches; on the contrary, it burdens believers with heavy taxes. For deciding matters, there are special religious centers—the chanceries—which even the state recognizes.
In our press much is written about freedom of conscience. The above-mentioned article by Tumėnas even carries the title, "The Freedom of Conscience and Soviet Law." This year in Helsinki, on September 1, the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe was signed. The Soviet Union also signed it. In this act there is a line about respect for human rights and liberties: "The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."
I want to illustrate with a few facts how that freedom of religion is "safeguarded" and "implemented."
In 1960 I was summoned to the headquarters of the Ignalina Rayon. There they accused me, as pastor in Dūkštas, of planting flowers in the churchyard where German soldiers were buried. I was then offered the opportunity of working for the security organs to expiate this "offense" and others.
In June 1960, Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs, Rugienis,4 summoned me from Dūkštas to Vilnius and began to berate me angrily:
4Justas Rugienis, and old Lithuanian revolutionary, was appointed to oversee religious activities in 1957. He was rather abrasive bureaucrat, apparently unable to deal with the rising religious dissent. In 1972 he was replaced as the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs by K. Tumėnas.
"Here you are back from prison camp and still you have not learned your lesson! You won't be allowed to function as a priest. Look for another trade!" As a matter of fact, I have never been in a camp, nor have I ever been tried. Why the deputy confiscated my work permit at that time, I do not now know.
Rugienis, having relieved me of my duties, cannot assign a new pastor in my place without the bishop, and, yet, to leave a parish without a priest was just as bad, since a disturbance would have arisen among the people—the faithful would not have been satisfied without a priest.
Bishop Steponavičius refused to relieve me of priestly duties. He merely compromised, promising to transfer me to the smaller parish of Palūšė. Such behavior on the part of the bishop did not please the government. For this and similar "offenses," Bishop Steponavičius was exiled from Vilnius in the beginning of 1961. In his place was appointed the present administrator, the Rev. Česlovas Krivaitis, who eight months later transferred me from Palūšė to the still smaller parish of Paringis.
There, I functioned as pastor just barely one month, when the goverment, on June 23, 1961, once again took away my work permit. So that the people would not have cause for complaint over the loss of their pastor, Monsignor Krivaitis sent Paringis, a new priest. In this way I was left with almost nothing to do for a considerable time.
Similar things have happened to very many other priests. From this we see how the present chanceries of the dioceses are being forced to cooperate with the government and to harm the Church.
On October 30, 1967, I was summoned before the Security Committee of Ignalina, where three officials berated me for two hours for allowing minors to serve Mass and for allegedly wooing children — for giving three pieces of candy to children at the bus station— and for not asking permisión of the rayon to have priests come to religious celebrations. For this I was threatened with jail.
On December 23, 1969, I was summoned by the security organs to Vilnius. There, they berated me for three hours on account of the same children, threatened me with jail, accused me of not conforming to the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, of doing harm to the Church and to the Faith, saying that such priests are displeasing even to the pope . . .
They then asked if I had been abroad. I told them that I had, before the war.
"Oh, before the war. . . Now, everything is changed there. You have to go along with progress . . ."
"Then let me go abroad now, to see," I asked.
"How can we let you go abroad? You would embarrass everyone! You should rather be confined in the hospital; perhaps then you would improve! Perhaps some decent idea would penetrate your skull . . .'
At the beginning of 1969, I received an official invitation from a physician to visit him in Leipzig, Democratic Germany, but they would not let me go.
One priest told of how security organs harassed him for days, until they forced him to agree "to work with them."
"But I won't do anything to harm the Church," he thought to himself. Some time later, the same priest complained to me, "Perhaps I did the devil's own work, writing to Rome praising a certain government candidate for bishop." In order to deceive the Vatican more thoroughly, he told me, letters are sent even via Poland, as though they were secret. . .
Whoever agrees to "cooperate", easily receives permission to build a fine home—even a villa—and to travel abroad; anyone who refuses is not allowed to repair even a farm building.
Especially subject to blackmail and recruitment are seminarians, Anyone applying for the seminary must submit his request well before he would apply to any other school, so that security would have enough time to terrorize and recruit for themselves these candidates for the seminary. For example, some years ago A. Klikūnas, a teacher at the middle school of Telšiai, submitted his application to enter the seminary.
Security organs then posed the condition that he "agree to cooperate." He refused, and they would not accept him for the seminary. Obviously, such an "imprudent" person could no longer teach, but had to find another specialty and look for work elsewhere.
Seminarians are summoned to government offices on the pretext of conferring about their identification papers or military service matters. But in reality, they fall into the hands of security. There, they are forced to inform on one another. They are asked even such things as "which of the seminarians leaves the chapel last." It is said that many of the seminarians, young men in their prime, upon returning from such interviews, begin to cry like children. Many have their health ruined; their nerves are shattered.
At times, government officials, in the guise of good Catholics, come to drive the priest on a sick call, but in reality they take him to security headquarters to grill him and terrorize him.
Father Jonas Paukštys told me how security tried to force him even to break the seal of confession, threatening to punish him and to report him in the newspaper. Father Paukštys refused. Of course, they then wrote all sorts of things about him in the press.
Tumėnas writes: " . . .An atmosphere of public condemnations must be created against deliberate transgressors of the law, and especially against the organizers."
Even though believers constitute the majority of the residents of Lithuania, they are often subjected to this kind of an "atmosphere of public condemnation." Constant attacks are instigated against believers who are loyal citizens of the same state. Where can you ever hear or read anything positive about believers? Everywhere, they are portrayed as the most ignorant and harmful people. All means are used to put them down: the press, the radio,, television, the school . . .
The atheists are always claiming that there is freedom of religion. True, no one here publicly puts believers to death, as has happened more than once in the history of the Church. However, it is not necessary to kill a person on the spot. It is possible to destroy him slowly, by denying him basic needs.
On one occasion, a certain worker, warned not to go to church any longer, complained to me that his superior had told him, "If you continue to go to church, I have orders to fire you, giving as the reason not the Church, but some other excuse."
It is forbidden to go to church and there is no religious press, while atheistic propaganda against religion is cranked out full blast. Is this not a spiritual death watch?
The results of such propaganda and "atmosphere of condemnation" are various incidents which happen to the believers. Here are a few examples:
On July 27, 1967, Vice Chairman Maželis of the Executive Committee of the Rayon of Ignalina, while driving under the influence of alcohol, struck and killed Vincas Mečelė, a parishioner of Ceikiniai. During the funeral at the cemetery someone began to throw stones, bloodying the head of the father of the deceased, standing next to me. Afterwards, Ignalina security questioned me and berated me for urging everyone during this funeral to pray and to receive the sacraments, thus insulting the atheists.
On October 14, 1952, the Executive Committee of the Rayon of Druskininkai, via communication No. 473, placed the rectory under the jurisdiction of the Parish Council of Kabeliai (the other parish buildings had already been taken by the government). Soon after, I moved to Kabeliai as pastor—October 24, 1952.
On November 21, 1952, at 9 p.m. a whole group of officials came from the rayon together with Chairman Bilius of the Kabeliai communal farm, and read me a new order from the government—to turn my house over to them. That night they measured the whole rectory and set a rent of 50 thousand rubles, saying that if I left the rectory to live elsewhere, I would not be subject to the payments.
The government harassed me in all sorts of ways, ordering me to abandon the premises as soon as possible. Under the rectory windows, they established a pig-sty. Once, when I was out, someone broke into the vestibule. Unable to break through the kitchen door, they tied it and went off.
On another occasion, Principal Gudelionis of the school in Kebeliai broke out the windows, frames and all. Again, Teacher P. Grigas of the school in Kabeliai blocked my path and began to har-rass me. When I went on, he shot by me. These are a few old facts.
Similar incidents recur constantly. On Good Friday, 1975, in the Cemetery of Panevėžys, about thirty crosses were wrecked and desecrated. On the first Sunday of Lent, in 1975, during services, someone broke out the windows of the church at Ukmergė. The faithful of Ignalina have complained more than once that the director of the Hall of Culture broke the windows of their church during services.
On August 13, 1973, in the church at Mielagėnai, the Blessed Sacrament was profaned. On November 26, 1972, the windows of the pastor Adutiškiai were broken out. These are all fruits of atheistic propaganda and of the "atmosphere of condemnation". Lithuania abounds with such crimes. In view of the facts indicated, I request:
1. That the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the USSR be confirmed for believers.
2.That all citizens be guaranteed equal rights to enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and beliefs, according to the international agreement signed at Helsinki.
3.That an atmosphere of public condemnation be formed not against believers and the Church, but against all evil.
Ceikiniai, Rayon of Ignalina The Rev. Karolis Garuckas