THE ARCHDIOCESE OF VILNIUS
On March 13, 1972, the Rev. B. Laurinavičius, pastor of this parish, was summoned by J. Rugienis, the comissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, who "responded" to the petition sent by the clergy from the Archdiocese of Vilnius on November 24, 1971, to Leonid Brezhnev, the General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU (see theChronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, no. 1).
The commissioner accused Father Laurinavičius of insolence, of anti-Soviet inclinations, and advised him "to concern yourself more with pastoral work." Since it was not possible to respond to the government representative's accusations during the discussion, the pastor sent a detailed written reply on July 20, 1972. What follows is a selection of some of the ideas and facts from the above-mentioned statement which clearly illustrate how the Catholic Church in Lithuania is being persecuted.
" 'You write to the bishops and priests who "are working within the boundaries of the Soviet Union's legal system."'"
Father Laurinavičius did not deny this charge by Rugienis because it was necessary to write. For example, on April 11, 1972, Lithuanian bishops and ecclesiastical administrators sent out a pastoral letter condemning collective complaints by the faithful to representatives of the Soviet government. "Brotherly admonitions are acceptable within the Church. That is a sign of the democracy within the Church. Every pastor may state his opinion of the bishops' decrees," wrote the Rev. B. Laurinavičius.
The priest recalled further that the atheists especially tend to write many letters of complaint against the clergy.
"On January 16, 1968, the commissioner showed me about thirty declarations accusing me. Where did these declarations come from and how? It turned out that Z. Baranauskas, the principal of Švenčionėliai Secondary School No. 1, did not let a group of little children leave until they had written down those dictated statements. These statements obtained through coercion have affected the health of some of these students.
"At the funeral of K. Valadzka in the cemetery of Jakeliai Village in 1971, I spoke of God, death, and eternal life. That is the most innocent of themes, but the director of the Jakeliai State Farm was scandalized: 'This is not the place for propaganda.' There were rumors that the director had even written a complaint against me. When relatives and acquaintances asked the accusers, 'What have you charged the pastor with?', one of them replied: T don't know, since I signed on a blank sheet.' Others said: 'I signed because I was afraid they would dismiss me from work.' Complaints are often signed because 'they won't give me a horse, or hay, or other goods essential for life.' Nonbelievers write scores of accusations against priests..."
Father Laurinavičius wrote that Lithuanian priests want to work within the bounds of the Soviet Union's legal system, but the Soviet government itself does not observe its own laws. "On January 16, 1968, Commissioner J. Rugienis told me frankly: 'If you don't leave Švenčionėliai, you'll have to choose another profession.'
"On January 3, 1971, V. Sauliūnas, the vice-chairman of the Švenčionys Rayon Soviet of Working People's Deputies Executive Committee, haughtily asserted that in 1968 he had dismissed me from my duties at the parish in Švenčionėliai.
"Church law requires each priest to teach religious truths to children and the youth. After all, conditions are not always favorable for parents to teach the tenets of their faith: on weekdays they work, and on Sundays some of them are afraid to come to church. At the Jakeliai State Farm caricatures are drawn of those faithful who choose to attend church and these drawings are then posted on the disciplinary bulletin board. If a priest visits someone out of necessity, he is accused: 'You visit homes in order to agitate.' That is how I was rebuked on January 11, 1972, by V. Sauliūnas, the vice-chairman of the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee.
"If the Church is still permitted to exist in the Soviet Union, then it is clear that the faithful must be allowed to live according to its laws. If believing citizens under eighteen may not take part in common services, such as processions and the singing of hymns, then why are little children under the age of reason enrolled in the Little Octobrists and the Young Communist League?
"I have not forced anyone to go to church. If I would do so, I would violate the Constitution of the Soviet Union, which guarantees freedom of conscience. Hence, on what laws did [Mrs.] Turlienė, the teacher of Lithuanian at the secondary school in Adutiškis, base her action of making the children leave the church on April 14, 1972?
"Article 124 of the USSR Constitution states: 'The school is separated from the church' and 'the church is separated from the state.' It is unheard-of that a priest would have gone into a Soviet school! It is unheard-of that a priest would have come to a Party meeting; however, atheists and their assistants come to church very frequently. They come to spy out what the priest teaches. The above-mentioned V. Sauliūnas stated candidly on January 5, 1971: 'Your sermons are known to us; we can disclose them at any time.'
"One of the laws of the Church orders the faithful not to feast or make merry during Lent. After I explained this law to the believers, A. Laurinavičius, the chairman of the Adutiškis locality, came and warned me: 'Pastor, don't meddle in leisure-time activities!' This is what we have come to—a pastor does not even have the right to explain the commandments of the Church concerning fasting and self-control!
"Actually, the state is very closely connected to the Church. It practically thrusts its way into our internal affairs: priests are forced to chase children away from the altar and the choir; they must forbid the singing of hymns; they must take away all banners from the faithful; they must not provide a Catholic burial according to the ritual of the Church; they must not teach children.
"You charge: 'You write anti-Soviet tracts!'
"On March 13, 1972, I replied to the commissioner that I have not written any anti-Soviet tracts. In the petition of December 24, 1972, from the Vilnius Archdiocese addressed to Leonid Brezhnev, the General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, there were no anti-Soviet attacks. It was only a listing of facts:
1. Enrollment into the Kaunas Theological Seminary is not free from hindrances.
2. Neither a catechism, nor a hymnal, nor the Bible has been printed during the Soviet period. Some prayer books have been published but only for propaganda purposes. If as many as are necessary were published, the believers would not be offering thirty rubles for one. Only selected individuals were able to receive a prayer book: choir members and those who were fortunate when lots were drawn.
3. We did not try to return H.E. Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius and H.E. Bishop V. Sladkevičius to their posts by force. We are not the first to petition for or to show concern over the injustices committed against our rightful superiors. Dear to us are our brethren in ideology—our Ukrainian brothers; also dear to us are Zdebskis and Bubnys, who have been imprisoned for the Faith. Before the war, the Communists were also concerned about their comrades. They wrote, pleaded, and solicited signatures. Please refer to Jaunystės atradimas [Rediscovery of youth] by A. Venclova (Vilnius, 1970).
After World War II, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs edited a most disgusting document against His Holiness Pope Pius XII and demanded that the clergy sign it.
Lietuvos pionierius [Lithuanian Pioneer], no. 34, April 22, 1972, published the following: 'The Pioneers of Kėdainiai Secondary School No. 2 have collected 1,600 signatures for a protest and contributed 150 rubles to the Peace Fund.' In the Soviet Union children are allowed to solicit signatures under protests and to collect contributions, but when priests petition Soviet agencies, that is regarded as something malicious and anti-Soviet.
We had requested that the Ukrainian priests be allowed to work because the believers of the Ukraine give us no peace—they bid us to come work among them. We have asked that their priests be permitted to work, because they have not been convicted in court.
On March 17, 1964, a session of the People's Court of Švenčionys Rayon was held, during which the judge did not allow me to answer my opponent's slander. He did not grant me a final word even though I requested and demanded it. He did not permit me to appeal his decision to a higher court. Yet Article 2 of the LSSR Code of Criminal Procedure states: 'The tasks of the Soviet criminal court are to ascertain crimes speedily and thoroughly, to incarcerate the guilty and to apply the laws appropriately so that every person who has committed a crime would be justly punished, and that no innocent person would be subject to criminal prosecution or punishment.'
H.E. Bishop J. Steponavičius has been punished for more than ten years without an explanation of his offense.
Article 4 of the LSSR Code of Criminal Procedure states: 'No one may be prosecuted in any other way than on the basis and procedure established by law.'
The imprisonment of H.E. Bishop Steponavičius was not based on any law.
Article 11 of the LSSR Code of Criminal Procedure states: 'Justice in criminal cases is executed only by a court. No one may be judged guilty of committing a crime and punished as a criminal otherwise than by judgment of the court.'
H.E. Bishop J. Steponavičius was not punished by a court. That was why we had requested that he, not having been judged guilty by a court, should be reinstated to his proper post, because the Archdiocese of Vilnius needs an Ordinary in the true sense of that word."
Further are listed facts as to how arbitrarily rayon and local government officials act with regard to priests: "a) Some years ago Telyčėnas, the vice-chairman of the ŠvenčionysRayon Executive Committee, assigned the same Sunday for a day of recollection to all the clergy of the Švenčionys Deanery. When he was reminded of how could there be a retreat withoutassistants, he ironicallyreplied:'How could it be that your neighbor would not come to you if you ask him?'
b) The police ordinarily take care of traffic in the streets, but on January 5, 1971, V. Sauliūnas, the vice-chairman of the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee, demanded that I should forbid the believers to sing hymns or carry banners in the street during a funeral procession. What mockery! The priest must forbid the faithful to pray and carry banners!
c) On Christmas Eve, 1971, I treated some guests who had come to visit me to some candy. Christmas Eve for us believers is not an ordinary time. Everywhere that evening especially great hospitality is shown. But I was rebuked for this by the government. V. Sauliūnas even drove twenty-nine kilometers to do so. What insolent interference in the private life of a priest!
d) On January n, 1972, V. Sauliūnas demanded that I collect from the villages all the banners of mourning which the faithful carry during funerals. You see, that which they dare not do themselves due to fear of God or a sense of embarassment before the people, they force a priest to do.
e) On March 10, 1971, [Mrs.] J. Valadkienė, the chief of the Financial Department of Švenčionys Rayon, demanded that I show her the Baptismal Records book, because it was needed for tax assessment purposes. Later it became evident that she had wanted to find out whether certain persons had had their children baptized or had married in the church. Fortunately, not all of these had been noted down.
f) On April 5, 1971, [Mrs.] Kluonienė, the secretary of the Adutiškis Locality, declared: 'Pastor, if you trust me, give me the baptismal and matrimonial books, if you don't trust me, take them to the office of the locality yourself.' 'But why do you need them?' I asked. 'Two strangers have come demanding them." I suggested they check with the CBAIB. I did not show the books, since the faithful would have suffered, and I would have been a betrayer,
g) In 1966 V. Bukielskis, the chairman of the Švenčionėliai Executive Committee, exclaimed: 'If you want to take part in funerals, to go to the cemetery, then get in the rear of the people!'
From these facts we can see into whose hands we have fallen.
4. We have requested that the unjust application of Article 143 of the LSSR Criminal Code, which is contrary to the USSR Constitution, be rescinded.
5. We have requested that the secret instructions unknown to us concerning the religious life be abolished. Instructions according to which the lives of citizens are regulated must be known to all. The principle 'An unpromulgated law does not bind' is in force everywhere.
6. We have requested that the cases of individuals sentenced because of their faith be reviewed and that they be exonerated, for they functioned within the limits of Articles 124 and 125 of the USSR Constitution in carrying out their primary duties.
"You have accused me of being 'by nature anti-Soviet in orientation.'
"In saying this the commissioner is mistaken. If I had been anti-Soviet in orientation, then I would have withdrawn to the West in 1944. At that time I was living with my parents and had no official duties. While many were hurrying westward, I turned east, to Švenčionys.
"You have said that 'Laurinavičius has convinced himself that he cannot be curbed.'
"The commissioner did not shout at me on March 13, 1972, the way he did on January 16, 1968. This year he spoke, one may say, in a muffled tone of voice, elliptically.
"The laws and courts are at your disposal, also decrees, secret instructions, force, and the keys of prisons, but on my side there is only ageless truth, for which you have no regard.
"You have said, 'You're insolent!'
"If I were insolent, I would have reminded you of the following: when on January 16, 1968, you compared me to a tomcat; when you called me a fanatic; when you unlawfully tried to hound me from Švenčionėliai; when you pestered me repeatedly concerning the construction materials left over from the building of the church in Švenčionėliai—all those times I was silent.
"To clarify who was really insolent, let us recall a few things from the past.
"The commissioner, I believe, remembers well how the church in Švenčionėliai once looked, for in the spring of 1957 you arrived to look it over. Nine months of driving around, petitioning, demanding. How much worry there was over obtaining the permit! You cannot even imagine the whole story, since at that time you did not occupy your present position. At the office of the Švenčionėliai Executive Committee they had replied: 'Don't even think about a permit. Nobody will give you one!' K. Dudlauskas, the chairman of the Soviet of Working People's Deputies Executive Committee, had threatened: 'If you want to sit in Švenčionėliai, sit quietly!' J. Paleckis, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the LSSR, who had received us very pleasantly the first time, acted very rudely during the second time.
"After the permit was obtained, it was necessary to find supplies. The first year, we received a permit only to buy the lumber. Money was needed. The commission you formed in 1957 guessed almost exactly. They forsaw the estimate—a million rubles! Specialists had to be found, transportation obtained. When I was unable to arrange for transport, I brought one ton of cement from the store to the building site by bicycle. I toiled on the construction of the building for four years.
"With God's blessing and the assistance of kind people, the work was finished. 'Well-done"—that was how the state commission evaluated it.
"During construction, the parochial committee of Švenčionėliai did not pay me for my work since there was often a lack of money. When the church was finished, the committee paid me with the materials left over from the construction, with which I built myself a house after buying ten tons of cement. I didn't build it just anywhere but right next to the church in Švenčionėliai. Having begun construction, I drew up a will at the notary public of Švenčionys Rayon to the effect that when I am gone, in that house would live the priests who work at the church in Švenčionėliai. I invested my own savings and those of my parents into the building of this house because they wanted to live in a more spacious home and to be benefactors of the parish in Švenčionėliai. Usually parishes remember their benefactors. I had also borrowed from friends in order to build this house. We lived peacefully for two years. In 1962 a certain Sprindys from Vilnius visited me. He turned out to be a representative of the State Security agency. After our talk he suggested to me that I go to see H.E. Bishop J. Steponavičius and certain friends. He even promised to provide transportation. The purpose of my trips was to be, as he said, 'to help clear up certain questions.' Declining to take part in any kind of bargaining, I answered that I would not be an Antanavičius." (In the Soviet press Father Antanavičius is called a spy of the Tsarist government—ed.)
"First of all I was ridiculed in Šluota [Broom]—a satirical periodical. Then you summoned me on June 24,1962, and 'explained' that any leftover materials from the construction of the church belonged to the state. When I explained to you that the parochial committee had repaid me for four years of hard labor in building the church with the leftover materials, you replied that the committee had no such right. How odd: the committee had no right to compensate those who had worked on the construction of the church, but it only has the right to pay taxes. On June 24, 1962, you said: "You shouldn't have worked!' I had the right to work. The parochial committee had elected me chairman of the parochial committee, and on March 19, 1957, (Memorandum no. 2429) you confirmed this with your signature. Even though that time when you made fun of me I had not been insolent and did not exhibit any insolence, insolence was actually spouting from you in my direction. After calmly listening to your mockery, I returned home and wrote the Švenčionėliai Parochial Committee and you a statement that I had returned to the parochial committee the construction materials received from the parochial committee for four years of hard labor, and that I had kept the sum which I had invested myself into the construction of the house.
"I wrote everywhere. To all my petitions I received the reply: 'Such was the verdict of the court. There is no basis for complaint.' Yet how could the court have ruled without hearing both sides! Three of my petitions addressed to Rudenko, the Procurator General of the USSR, were forwarded to the LSSR Procurator's Office. From here they would answer every time: 'There is no basis for protesting the decision of the People's Court of Švenčionys Rayon. My fourth petition addressed to the Procurator General of the USSR reached the hands of a human being. This person directed A. Kirijenko, the LSSR Deputy Procurator to protest the decision handed down on March 17, 1964, by the People's Court of Švenčionys Rayon."
Father Laurinavičius then presents the decision handed down on June 3, 1965, by the Supreme Court of the LSSR, which reads as follows: "Since the building materials were purchased by the parochial committee, they are thus its property, and the committee could have presented them to anyone. A gift is not considered income from work. Moreover, it is evident from the explanations of Citizen Laurinavičius that his personal income, which was obtained from the performance of religious rites, was also used for the construction of the house. The stated circumstances have not been denied, nor has it been proved that the house had been built as a result of abuse by Citizen Laurinavičius.
"The juridical board decided 'to nullify the decision of March 17, 1964, by the People's Court of Švenčionys Rayon.
"The case was transferred to the People's Court of Ignalina Rayon, whose judge had the audacity to write into its decision whatever she wanted. When court was in session S. Janulis had declared that he was not a member of any commission, but she recorded that he was. The house was built smaller than the permit allowed, yet the judge, contrary to my documentation, accused me of having enlarged the house. In an effort to cover up the judge's fabrications, when I was thrown out of the house, in 1966 a small room was finished in the attic.
"The judge of the People's Court of Ignalina Rayon allowed the decision of July 7, 1965, to be appealed at the Supreme Court of the LSSR. A day was assigned for the hearing, but the court never considered the case because it became apparent that the judge had had no right to allow her decision to be appealed.
"If the judge had not understood whether her decision was appealable or not, then how could she have judged the case?
"This comedy was played out in the twentieth century, in which much is said about how men should be friends and brothers to one another. Now everyone can conclude that atheistic morality exists on paper, but not in life.
"What crime have I committed? What was I punished for? On what grounds did they take away my compensation for four years of hard work? Why was my parental inheritance seized?
" 'What about the children's choir? The acolytes? The strewing of flowers during processions?'
"On March 13, 1972, I replied that at the church in Adutiškis everyone sings the hymns. There are no acolytes. There are only worshippers and children who scatter flowers because a procession is an inseparable part of the services. The faithful worship God as best they know: some sing hymns, others carry banners, and still others scatter flowers."
In regard to Rugienis' advice to become more involved in pastoral work, Father Laurinavičius answered thus:
"How pleasant it was to hear such words from yourlips.
"When we were studying in the theological faculty at the University of Vilnius, it was explained to us that the concept of the term 'pastoral duties' is very broad and meaningful. I shall mention at least several meanings here: (1) The pastor must visit his parishioners; (2) He must visit the sick; (3) He must teach morality and religious truths to children, the youth, and all believers; (4) He must catechize children and teach them hymns; (5) He must bury the dead according to the ritual established by the Church.
"In reality, a pastor today does not have the right to perform his pastoral duties:
1. Not only is he not permitted to visit the homes of the faithful and to bless them there, but he also does not have the right to bless those who come to church. I recall very well how, summoning me on June 24, 1964, you gave me a tongue-lashing simply because I had blessed some little children after devotions on the Octave of Corpus Christi.
2. The pastor does not always get permission even to visit the sick. On November 17, 1971, I wrote you that even the dying request of V. Stakauskas had not been granted—he died without receiving Extreme Unction because his sister was not permitted to call a priest. I am certain that you received my note since I sent it by registered mail. I never did receive a reply from you. Strange! Whenever government agencies summon a priest, he must come at the appointed time, but he waits in vain for a reply to his letter.
3. A pastor does not have the right to teach little children, not only in school, but also in church. For this work, these priests have been made to suffer severely: A. Šeškevičius, J. Zdebskis, P. Bubnys. And to teach them on other occasions—even to think of it is impossible.
4. On December 23, 1971, the children sang some hymns together with the adults. Two weeks later, V. Sauliūnas strewed many angry and sharp words in my direction.
5. To bury the dead in accordance with the ritual of the Church is forbidden. Thus how can one perform one's priestly duties? How can one do pastoral work? If it is impossible for a priest to do all that he is meant to do, why do you make fun of us?
"On January 16, 1968, you called me a fanatic. I understood the word, but after returning home, I glanced at the dictionary, where it was stated: 'fanatic—a person of extremist convictions, noted for his great animosity toward people with differing convictions.' Although in my life I have met people who thought differently than I do, I did not act with hatred toward them. It was only because of my opponents' fanaticism that I was driven out of Švenčionėliai and thrown out of my home. All this you have done, not from love for one who thinks differently, but only from hatred.
"When Father Laurinavičius was in the Polish Army, they wanted to recruit him into disrupting the solidarity of his compatriots. For this they even promised 'to make him one of the gentry.' When he complained to a Polish colonel, the latter stated: 'Laurinavičius is a Lithuanian. It is forbidden to try to persuade him to harm his own nation!' The Polish gentry did not wrong the priest.
"If the atheists, the apologists and propagators of modern atheistic morality, proclaim their morality to be above all others, then they ought to show at least some tolerance toward everybody! Therefore return the house which was unjustly confiscated, in which not I shall reside now, but according to the will I have made, here will reside those who will work at the church in Švenčionėliai. Furthermore, do not exhibit an incomprehensible animosity toward those who think differently; provide at least the minimal conditions for existence, and then no one will need to write any more petitions.
"The commissioner had urged me to 'concern myself with pastoral work, but the locality and the rayon offices continue to interfere. On July 14, 1972, A. Laurinavičius, the chairman of the Adutiškis Locality, in the presence of witnesses forced Father Laurinavičius to sign an indictment regarding his pastoral work. 'Faster, faster,' urged the chairman, T have to take it to the rayon office.'
"That a priest would have incited the populace through his pastoral work is unheard-of and yet, how often is he so accused! And even turned over to the State Security agency. The actual agitators remain unpunished.
"For instance, in 1969 in the cemetery of Davaisiai Village an unknown evildoer knocked over all the tombstones and crosses. People went around cursing the evildoer, the government, and the times. It would seem that the officials in charge of order and security should have taken an interest in that deed. Not at all—to this very day no one has bothered his head about it.
"In December of 1971, arriving at the cemetery of Jakeliai Village, two policemen and the chairman of the locality together with a number of workers tore down a shrine which had stood for centuries in the cemetery. The faithful were scandalized. They gnashed their teeth, especially since the bricks were loaded and taken away to be used in building stables.
"It is events such as these that disturb the peace among the citizenry, cause dissatisfaction, and make the people hostile.
July 20, 1972
The Rev. B. Laurinavičius"