On August 12, 1972, in the newspaper Sovietskaja Litva [Soviet Lithuania] appeared an article by Rimaitis entitled "Bažnytininkai prisitaiko" [Churchmen adapt]. It stated that in the struggle against religion "irreparable harm can be caused by various administrative attacks or affronts to the sensibilities of believers. The use of incorrect methods in the struggle against religion not only fails to destroy the basis of the propagation of the faith, but, on the contrary, leads to a strengthening of religious fanaticism and to secret forms of the cult and of rites, arousing mistrust and discontent among believers and irritating them."
Rimaitis repeated the old atheistic principle which demands an uncompromising struggle against religion. In the event of a strong reaction by the faithful, this principle permits a retreat—allowing the faithful to calm down— then after determining the best means of attack, to strike again.
The reaction of the Lithuanian clergy and the faithful to the restrictions of religious freedom, which began in the summer of 1968, reached its culmination in early 1972. After the arrests of the priests Juozas Zdebskis and Prosperas Bubnys, a flood of written protests from the faithful appeared, describing the persecution of believers. The Soviet authorities ignored these protests by the populace and did not react to them, acting similarly as they had with the protests of the clergy in 1968-1971.
The first of the more significant conflicts between believers and government officials occurred on the day Father Zdebskis was tried, in Kaunas, on Ožeškienė Street. Only the use of force enabled the police to disperse the crowd which had gathered near the courthouse to honor the priest on trial.
Causing especial anxiety to the authorities was the news that signatures were being collected on a memorandum to the Soviet government. Government functionaries were intending to ignore this appeal by the faithful on this occasion as well; however, this memorandum of the Catholics caused one unexpected event after another. The document, signed by 17,000 believers and sent to the General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU through Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Na-itons, immediately became known throughout the world. Public opinion hailed the brave action of the faithful and condemned the existent restrictions of human rights in the Soviet Union.
The Soviet authorities decided to remedy the situation, which was becoming more and more complicated, by forcing Monsignor C. Krivaitis, the administrator of the Vilnius Archdiocese, to declare to all foreign countries in April that there is freedom of religion in Lithuania. The faithful of Lithuania learned of this interview with the ELTA News Agency only from foreign radio broadcasts. There have been rumors that what administrator G Krivaitis told the reporters differed somewhat from what was made public.
On April n all officially functioning bishops and ecclesiastical administrators were invited to the Curia of the Kaunas Archdiocese. Compelled by government representatives, they signed a so-called pastoral letter through which the government tried to compromise the organizers of the memorandum and the believers who signed it. Although on April 30 some priests read the above-mentioned letter from the pulpit, whether in modified, shortened, or complete form, nevertheless, the expected results were not forthcoming: some listeners did not understand who was being condemned in the letter, and others were outraged and deeply distressed at the government's attempts to involve our spiritual leadership in actions that would benefit atheism. Soon, news of this shameful act of coercion appeared in the columns of the foreign press.
The security officials who were searching for the organizers of the memorandum and the channels through which accurate information about the Catholic Church in Lithuania reaches the free world, were then taken unawares by the tragic events in May. On the 14th day of that month in the city park of Kaunas, the youth Romas Kalanta immolated himself as a protest against the persecution of freedom in Lithuania. Deeply moved, everyone discussed this tragic protest against coercion, the lack of national rights, and the Soviet government's tyranny toward nationalities. The interrupted funeral turned into a spontaneous demonstration demanding national and religious freedom. The army and police dealt roughly with the demonstrators, but government officials were disturbed— apparently, not only priests desired freedom, but also "their very own," that is the youth brought up communistically from the time they were Little Octobrists. Among those arrested were members of the Young Communist League, who had been born and grew up during the years of Soviet rule.
In the summer of 1972, an ebbing of tension could be felt. Children preparing for their First Communion were set upon by Soviet officials in only a few places: N. Radviliškis and Šunskai. A few priests were punished by administrative measures for failing to banish children from the altar. J. Rugienis, commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, almost ceased persecuting the clergy.
No doubt this was a deliberate step taken by the atheists in order to restore tranquility in Lithuania and, at the same time, to repair somewhat their own fallen prestige in world opinion, or perhaps even to convince the world and the Vatican that the disturbances had been stirred up by the tactlessness of one or another official. Thus, all is quiescent at present. Currently the lives of the faithful proceed in a normal fashion.
How does the present situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania appear to the clergy and the faithful?
Everyone is very concerned that the Soviet government is increasingly trying to strangle the Catholic Church in Lithuania with the hands of the clergy and faithful themselves.
How is this being accomplished?
I. The Church Leadership Is Being Subjugated
to the Interests of the Atheists
Wishing to conceal from the world its treatment of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, and nurturing the hope of deceiving the Vatican in order to obtain there decisions favorable to itself, the Soviet government has more than once forced certain Lithuanian bishops and ecclesiastical administrators to publicize to the world incorrect information. For example, the interview of H.E. Bishop J. La-bukas published by the newspaper L'Humanité; the interview of Monsignor C. Krivaitis, the administrator of the Vilnius Archdiocese, by Jok?bka, the editor of Vilnis, and his 1972 interview with the ELTA News Agency; the interview granted by H.E. Bishop Pletkus for radio transmission to Lithuanians abroad; and others. In these interviews the following has been maintained: that the present state of the Catholic Church in Lithuania is normal, and that the faithful are not being persecuted by the government. It is unclear whether the persons referred to really made such statements because many instances are known of interviews being intentionally distorted, altered, and arbitrarily supplemented.
Knowing that the clergy and the faithful of Lithuania lack the conditions and possibilities for informing the world about the true state of the Church, a most lamentable situation has developed over the years. When the Vatican conferred the title of monsignor on certain priests "loyal" to the Soviet government, thus apparently indicating approval of their behavior, when it nominated as bishops candidates selected by the government, when it remained silent about the distressing situation of believers in Lithuania—then voices began to be heard: "The Vatican has been deceived! The Chekists have penetrated the Roman Curia! We have been betrayed!"
At such a difficult time, all that the Catholics of Lithuania could do was to trust in Divine Providence and search for ways by which the correct information might find its way to the Vatican and the world, namely, that the most disastrous threat for the Catholic Church in Lithuania is not its persecution from without, but the noose being tied by hands within it.
Desiring to weaken the influence of the priests on the believers, the government has more than once forced bishops to restrict the rights of priests. In 1968 H.E. Bishop J. Labukas, compelled by Rugienis, prevented the Rev. S. Tamkevičius, curate of the parish in Prienai, from preaching for several months; in July, 1970, he revoked the power of jurisdiction over the Vilkaviškis Diocese and the Kaunas Archdiocese from the Rev. Br. Antanaitis, pastor of the parish in Alksninė, formerly chancellor of the Panevėžys Diocese, who had been exiled in i960 to the Vilkaviškis Diocese. A circular sent to priests on March 30, 1971, restricted the rights of priests regarding the hearing of confessions and preaching of sermons—priests from one diocese were not allowed to preach sermons or hear confessions in another diocese without the consent of the Curia. This prohibition aroused protests from the clergy, for under conditions of persecution, the rights of priests should be expanded, not restricted. The bishops had to proclaim all these restrictions of clerical rights in their own name while the chief perpetrator—Rugienis, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs—remained in the shadows.
The bishops are allowed to appoint only some of the priests to parishes themselves; Rugienis often specifies which priests are to be transferred, and all that the bishop has to do is to put his signature on the appointments. It is not by accident that the most diligent priests are scattered throughout small and remote parishes, but those who are lax, physically feeble, or have even compromised themselves before the faithful, not infrequently occupy the most important posts of ecclesiastical work.
Rugienis himself suggests to which parish the priests who curry favor with the government or who have fallen into disfavor should be appointed, and without his consent, a bishop may not transfer a priest even in case of necessity. For example, in September, 1972, under compulsion by Rugienis, Bishop Labukas forced the pastor of the parish in Juodaičiai, Father Pesliakas, under threat of suspension to take over the duties of curate in the parish of Vidukle. Whenever a diligent priest improves the state of spiritual matters of a parish and becomes familiarized with the people and the conditions of his work, Rugienis tries to have him transferred and lets the bishop appoint a negligent priest, so that everything in the parish would fall apart again.
Rugienis forbids the bishops to mention that he controls the appointment of many priests. Thus, priests know absolutely nothing about their appointments in advance. They are pushed around like billiard balls in accordance with Rugienis' whims. When people want to find out why a priest is being transferred, Rugienis sends them to the bishop, who gives them to understand that he is powerless to do anything.
Seeing that the bishops are coerced by government officials, sometimes the priests attempt to appeal to Church law: "This transfer is uncanonical; therefore, please do not assign me to a new parish."
Under direct or indirect compulsion, H.E. Bishop Labukas obtained a dispensation from the Holy See on November 19, 1970, enabling him to assign priests without complying with Canon Law. In the opinion of all the priests, this dispensation has made the bishop even more subservient to Rugienis' plans. Previously the bishop could have opposed Rugienis: "I can't transfer a good pastor to a small parish because Church law doesn't allow me to do so," but now the representative of the government can reply to the bishop's objections: "You have the pope's dispensation, so please transfer this priest from the parish."
The bishops were forced to cover up Rugienis' arbitrary interference in clergy appointments with the circular of March 30, 1971, in which was written: "Desiring to improve the ministry of the spiritual needs of the faithful, the Ordinaries have decided to reorganize the system of appointing priests to parishes. It has been decided in the future to assign priests who are young, diligent, and suitable for such duties as pastors where there is much work; whereas the elderly priests who cannot cope with the work will be transferred to smaller parishes, where it will be easier for them to serve as pastors." As one reads the circular, one forms the impression that the Ordinaries in Lithuania act with complete freedom, assigning priests wherever they wish. In practice, however, the matter has been and remains otherwise. Immediately after the publication of this circular, the young and enthusiastic Father P. Dumbliauskas was transferred from the parish in Garliava to the small parish in Šunskai; and the pastor of the parish in Šunskai, the Rev. I. Pilypaitis, born in 1903, was appointed to the Aleksotas Parish in Kaunas.
Bishops are also being forced to interfere with the struggle waged by the clergy and the faithful for freedom of religion in Lithuania. In December, 1970, the Rev. A. Jakubauskas, the curate of the parish in Kėdainiai, was threatened with suspension if he left the boundaries of the parishes in Kėdainiai and Apytalaukis. At that time, the above-mentioned curate had been preparing to solicit signatures on a petition asking that bishops would not be subjugated into participating in the attempts to destroy the Church.
On April ii, 1972, those who had collected signatures and those who had signed demanding freedom of religion in Lithuania were condemned in a "pastoral letter."
The bishops are forced to keep in check the congregations of religious sisters working underground so that they would not "step out of line" and draw upon themselves the government's attention. It is no wonder then that some of them have not fully given their share to the religious life of the nation but have been content to only pray. Meanwhile, like a storm, atheism has been raging and destroying the life of the Church.
In an attempt to prevent the government from subjugating the leadership of the Catholic Church in Lithuania to its interests, the Lithuanian clergy addressed an appeal to the bishops and ecclesiastical administrators of Lithuania in September-October, 1970, in which they indicated which concessions must not be made. This appeal was signed by fifty-nine priests from the Vilkaviškis Diocese and fifty priests from the Vilnius Archdiocese.
II. Involvement of the Clergy in the Atheistic Cause
Priests are forbidden to teach religious truths to children. They have been left only with the right to test them. Since parents are most often incapable of preparing children well for First Communion, many priests, especially in the larger parishes, allow them to receive Communion with little or no preparation. For example, at the Aušros Vartai Shrine in Vilnius children have been receiving their First Communion for some time without even having been taught their prayers properly. They come in droves from Byelorussia, where there are no priests. Their parents are not able to prepare them because the printing of catechisms or other religious literature is forbidden. Since the priests decline to teach the children, the faithful form the impression that if the priest is afraid then they should fear the authorities all the more. That is how people begin to easily excuse their children when they begin to neglect religious practices for trivial reasons: "The teachers will scold; they'll note it in the school record; the child won't be able to enter a school of higher learning, etc."
The government pressures the pastors to keep children from serving at the altar and from participating in processions. Uncompliant priests are punished. Priests are especially being coerced in these matters at present. Some, who have resolved to bear all the necessary hardships, do not forbid children to participate in religious ceremonies, but others, currying favor with the government and valuing their good position or their peace and wanting "no unpleasantness with the government," do not permit children to take part in processions or to serve mass. Thus, in place of children at the altar, one frequently sees old men.
No doubt a most negative effect concerning this question resulted from the circular written under duress on May 31, 1961, by Dr. J. Stankevičius, the administrator of the Kaunas Archdiocese and the Vilkaviškis Diocese: "According to a decree by Rugienis, the commissioner for Religious Affairs, public participation in liturgical rites is permitted to those who are eighteen years old. Younger children cannot serve mass, cannot sing in the choir, cannot carry banners or scatter flowers. Children are to participate in liturgical-religious practices only with their parents." So reads the circular referred to. After receiving this circular, certain priests began to justify their behavior all the more readily, but lately in many parishes children have again begun to participate in religious rites. Because children participate in the rites in so many places, it is most difficult for Rugienis to fight against this.
The secret police try to recruit certain priests into becoming their agents. Wanting to draw them into this despicable work of undermining the Church, security officials both entice and threaten the clergy, promising them, in exchange for signing to become a security agent, permission to work in a choice parish, to be made deans or perhaps to attain even higher positions, or to let them leave for studies in Rome or to travel around the United States. Sometimes they promise an outright monthly wage. Priests who have sinned against morality are blackmailed by security agents: if they do not sign up to collaborate, all their vices will be dragged out into the open. Security officials have succeeded in recruiting a few amoral priests and are forcing them to carry out assignments for the Soviet government.
It is true that the recruited priests never work all that seriously for the State Security agencies, but sensing their inner duplicity, they ultimately become demoralized, unstrung, and take to drink. Such priests try to justify themselves by claiming that they are not destroying the Church but merely seeking "dialogue" with the Soviet government. The Vatican, it appears, does not understand what this "dialogue" means. It is total capitulation. The complete betrayal of the Church's cause. The postwar experience of the clergy testifies to this truth. Foreigners often consider priests recruited by State Security forces as knowing how to adapt to conditions of persecution. This shows total ignorance of the situation in our country.
In the assignment of the more active priests, bishops are being forced by the government to place them under the "tutelage" of pastors who are timid or who have been recruited by the secret police. State Security agents threaten such pastors by claiming that they will have to answer for any of their curate's "excesses." They are ordered to watch that their curates would not deliver any "anti-Soviet" sermons, that they avoid traveling too much, etc. For example, Father Berteška, the pastor of the parish in Prienai, was even ordered to report on every trip outside the parish by his curate, the Rev. J. Zdebskis. At present, more than a few of the more diligent priests are already forced to suffer more from their own people than from government functionaries. In this manner the government alienates the clergy, setting them against each other, the clergy against the curiae, and conversely. Priests who work for the security police label their diligent colleagues as hotheads, extremists, and revolutionaries who want to "bang their heads against the wall"; but they look upon themselves as wise and capable of "plowing deeply"; but as they do so, only a handful of old men and women tend to remain within their church.
The secret police try to involve recruited priests in Soviet propaganda. For example, in the publication intended only for abroad, by J. Rimaitis, The Church in Lithuania (in English and Italian), and also in J. Aničas' book Socialinis politinis Katalikų Bažnyčios vaidmuo Lietuvoje 1945-1952 metais [Socio-political role of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, 1945-1952], can be found untrue statements by certain priests that minimize the extent of persecution of the faithful throughout the entire postwar period. No doubt the government may also be successful in compelling even priests who have not signed up to work for the secret police into making statements about the "freedom" of religion in Lithuania.
The special duty of recruited priests is "to take care of," in an ideological sense, the tourists visiting from a-broad, especially priests. They present an erroneous picture of the actual situation of the Catholic Church, declaring that there is freedom of worship, that whoever wants to, may pray, that the parishes are adequately provided with priests by the seminary, that some of the clergy are but hotheads. If it weren't for them, the bishops would be able to obtain even more privileges from the Soviet government, and so forth.
In order to demonstrate how well the Soviet government treats the clergy, foreigners might be shown the villa of the ecclesiastical administrator Monsignor C. Krivaitis on the banks of the Neris River or the rectory of the Rev. St. Lydžius, pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Vilnius, or others. The foreigner will not be able to visit out-of-the-way places and will not see that at times the priests lack even the basic necessities. For example, Father A. Lukošaitis, the pastor of the parish in Valakbūdis, lived in a tent pitched in the churchyard during the summer of 1972 because the government refused him permission to purchase a residence. Meanwhile, the nursing home for the aged, which had been confiscated from the parish, stands practically uninhabited.
To understand the actual truth, to get a feeling for the capably masked duplicity, hypocricy, and deceit, it is necessary to live for some time in Lithuania. Hence it is not surprising that even the Vatican has been misled for a long time. Seen through the eyes of those of us who live in Lithuania, a number of its decisions have been disadvantageous to the Catholic Church in Lithuania. Even now the priests and believers of Lithuania are distressed that the Holy See, while defending those who are being discriminated against throughout the world, only mentions in passing the "Church of Silence and Suffering" and does not bring up the question of persecution in the Soviet Union or condemn it.
No one in Lithuania believes that dialogue is possible with the Soviet government. The atheistic authorities need it only in order to get into a better position to destroy the Church the more successfully from within. In Lithuania it is plain to all that the Church will not be destroyed if the priests are imprisoned, or if school children are forced to speak and act against their beliefs, or if there is no Catholic press and no officially published prayer books or catechisms; but the Catholic Church in Lithuania will lose the people if it should lose their confidence because of bootlicking the Soviet government. Something similar to this has already happened to the Russian Orthodox Church.
III. Involvement of the Faithful
in the Atheists' Designs
According to the program of the Communist Party, all intellectuals—teachers, physicians, agronomists, and others—should be ideologically "enlightened" and prepared to "enlighten" others. In the hospital at Švenčionys, an order from the chief physician was posted year-round to the effect that every physician, not excluding even physicians known to be believers, was obligated to be prepared at a moment's notice to present a lecture on one medical topic and one antireligious topic. In the schools, more than once teachers known to be believers have been assigned to sponsor atheistic groups. In factories and offices even believing workers are assigned to atheistic councils. This is done to make them speak and act agaist their convictions. Because they do not wish to lose their jobs, or at the least, experience some unpleasantness, even educated persons give in at times, becoming accomplices of the atheists. It is impossible to even make a rough estimate of the numbers of believing teachers, who, terrorized by the atheists, have spoken against the faith; or of how many students they have enrolled into the atheistic Pioneers and the Young Communist League or into outright atheistic groups. It is not by chance that in Lithuania one can often hear it said that it is the teachers who have contributed the most toward turning our nation into a godless one, and thus to its assimilation.
Terrorized by the atheists, indifferent Catholic parents also often undermine their children's faith. When a child doubts whether or not to join the Young Communist League, more than once religious parents, fearing that their child might be harassed otherwise, advise him to join: "Join, child. What can one do? Such are the times..." Thus they push the child onto the path of hypocricy and spiritual lameness. The majority of such children lose their faith, and their parents fail to understand that they themselves have destroyed their children's religious life, due to fear of persecution by the atheists.
There are parents who, from fear of reprisals or simply from imprudent behavior, are afraid of defending their children when they are being compelled to act against their faith. There are also, however, some very resolute parents who declare: "Don't terrorize my child, or I'll be forced to keep him out of school."
The atheists try to involve even believing students in atheistic activities. In school it happens more than once that a religious student must speak against the faith, draw antireligious caricatures, or ridicule a friend for publicly practicing his religion. Acquiring an attitude of obsequiousness usually from their elders, the children conceal their faith and look down upon those classmates who practice their faith openly.
Soviet pedagogy encourages such behavior by religious students, calling it "a positive effect of the collective."
Let us compare the facts we have stated with atheistic propaganda:
That "the Soviet state and its governmental organs do not interfere in the Church's internal affairs" is stated in a booklet by J. Aničas and J. Rimaitis, Tarybiniai įstatymai apie religinius kultus ir sąžinės laisvę [Soviet laws concerning religious cults and freedom of conscience], Vilnius, 1970, p. 21.
"The Party fights for complete freedom of conscience and regards with respect every sincere conviction in the area of religious beliefs," has written A. Balsys in the brochureKur susikerta ietys [Where lances cross], Vilnius, 1972, p. 58.