On February 2, 1982, the Prienai Rayon newspaper Naujas gyvenimas (New Life) reprinted an article entitled "Melas iš sakyklos" ("Lies from the Pulpit") from Tiesa (Truth) (January 26, 1982), directed against Šilalė Assistant Pastor Father Vytautas Skiparis and added the following comment: "Assistant Pastor Antanas Gražulis of the Prienai church and pastor Zenonas Navickas of the Užuguostis church (brother of the woman imprisoned for duplicating the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania — Ed. Note), in attempting to discredit teachers, Communists,and in general, all atheists in the eyes of the believers, are employing the methods used by Šilalė Assistant Pastor Vytautas Skiparis named in the newspaper."
The faithful of the Prienai parish sent government agencies a strong letter of protest bearing 1,500 signatures. The letter states that the newspaper has made false charges against their assistant Pastor, Father Antanas Gražulis.
On February 3, 1982, Father Antanas Gražulis was punished for visiting the homes of believers while fulfilling his priestly duties.
A letter of protest signed by 1,483 Prienai believers was sent to First Secretary Griškevičius of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party. We reprint an abbreviated version of the protest:
"On February 3, 1982, the Prienai Rayon Administrative Commission imposed a 50-ruble fine on our assistant pastor, Father Antanas Gražulis, for visiting our families in the Town of Prienai during the month of January 1982. He allegedly thereby violated the May 12, 1966 Decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the Lithuanian SSR which we never saw published in newspapers. We did not even know that such a ban is based on law and not some kind of atheist prohibition.
Father Antanas Gražulis considered the Administrative Commission fine unjust and filed a complaint with the Prienai Rayon People's Court. Unfortunately, the court reviewed this matter in a perfunctory manner. Of course, a priest could not possibly win against the Executive Committee in a Soviet atheist court.
Therefore, having heard the ruling of the Prienai Rayon People's Court, we state that Father Antanas Gražulis did not violate Soviet Laws, but merely fulfilled his direct duties as a priest:
Canon Law and the decisions of the Vilkaviškis Diocesan Synod require a priest to make an annual visit to his parishioners.
Responsible Soviet government officials have often stated in the press and on television that the Soviet government does not interfere in internal Church affairs.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. (Article 18)
The Helsinki Final Act stresses that "the participating states will recognize and respect the right of the individual to profess either alone or in community with others religion or belief, according to his own conscience . . ." (Section 7)
The same idea is confirmed by the Declaration of Religious Freedom which the Soviet Union also signed during last year's session of the General Assembly.
We have heard on the radio that the Soviet Union defends the rights of Irish Catholics. Why then have the atheists of the Rayon of Prienai not learned from their higher officials?
The domestic judicial codes of states which have signed international documents cannot contradict the abovenamed international commitments. The Decrees (May 12, 1966 and July 28, 1976) of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the Lithuanian SSR cannot be contrary to international agreements and art. 50 of the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR.
From our personal experience, we see that Lithuania's atheists, who are in the minority, have not yet learned to fight against religion with ideological weapons as Lenin taught. They only manage to fight by means of crude force.
We wish to affirm that such methods of atheistic warfare on religion will not eradicate God from the hearts of Lithuanians but will merely show the atheists' true face.
Punishment imposed on Father Antanas Gražulis is also punishment against us. Or, perhaps this is our recompense for diligent work in industry and agriculture?
We have invited in the past and will continue to invite our parish priests to bless our homes and visit our families for we love and respect priests, we support them and pray for them.
We voice the strongest protest against this crude incident."
The trial of Father Antanas Gražulis was held not in the courtroom, but in a small office which accommodated a mere handful of people. The remaining Prienai believers stood in the corridor of the court building.
The judge attempted to prove that a priest is not forbidden to visit believers, however Soviet laws consider such visits by a priest from home to home and immediately after the Christmas season to be kalėdojimas (annual traditional Christmas-time visits by priests to bless the homes of parishioners — Trans. Note). The judge did not deign to explain what these Soviet laws are which define home visitation in this way, for as a matter of fact such laws do not exist.
At the trial, Father Gražulis explained that the Prienai City Administrative Commission punished him unjustly because during the visits he acepted no donations from believers. Furthermore, be only visited the believers who invited him. Father Gražulis asked the court: "Since when is a Soviet citizen forbidden to visit another Soviet citizen when invited?"
It must be noted that both the Administrative Commission of the Prienai City Executive Committee and the People's Court showed great ignorance, for Father Antanas Gražulis was punished under the May 12, 1966 Decree of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the Lithuanian SSR which makes no reference whatsoever to kalėdojimas.
A prohibition against "kalėdojimas" is mentioned only in the Regulations for Religious Associations which the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian SSR confirmed on July 28, 1976. However, even these regulations do not explain how "kalėdojimas" is to be interpreted. In Lithuania, everyone understands the word "kalėdojimas" us defined in the Current Lithuanian Language Dictionary, i.e., "to collect an assessment." But Father Gražulis did not collect donations while visiting believers. Thus, the court's decision to uphold the Administrative Commission's ruling greatly incensed the faithful. "Some government," say the people of Prienai, "to impose a 50-ruble fine on a priest for visiting us!"