The bishops and deans of Lithuania were summoned to the Supreme Soviet for a meeting at 11:00 A.M., September 17, 1987, with leaders of the Republic, the first meeting at such a level in post-war history. It evoked contradictory thoughts from everyone: What is it? A still more refined trick? Or the Soviet restructuring bo much in fashion among us? You be the judge-Participating in the meeting were four bishops of Lithuania and a significant number of the deans. Invitations were not received by the exiled Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius or by Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas. (Bishop Steponavičius is prevented by the government from functioning as Apostolic Administrator of Vilnius, and Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas resigned his post in 1983. - Trans. Note) Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, shaken by the attacks on him from government officials September 13 in Šiluva, was ill, and so did not come to the meeting. The Administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Father Algirdas Gutauskas, was visiting Poland at the time at the instigation of the government.
The Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R., R. Sungaila, began the meeting with his report. For a good half hour, he gave the representatives of the Church an explanation, "of the economic and cultural achievements of the republic on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution, about the process of restructuring going on in the republic, about ways of deciding new social questions and their perspectives." The report was boring, in the style of newspaper propaganda.
Secretary L. Šepetys, of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania, tried to discuss questions of Church-state relations. In his words, with restructuring proceding in the country, the possibility has arisen of implementing more fully the principle of freedom of conscience. And right here he corrected himself, saying that the state would determine the limits to which it would tolerate this freedom. The most important thing was that this freedom would not contravene state regulations. It means that the secret regulations issued by the state which are incomparably more important than Constitutional guarantees are not effected by the restructuring going on in the country.
In his speech, Šepetys praised those clergymen who "are in positions of loyalty with regard to the Socialist state and who occupy themselves with activities suitable for satisfying the requirements of believers."
He rejoiced that the celebration of the jubilee of Saint Casimir had taken place routinely enough. "Even now, in some of the churches, without breaking the law, jubilee celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity into Lithuania are taking place," said Šepetys.
In the government's opinion, they transpired best in the Cathedral of Kaunas, and in Vilnius. In other cathedrals — satisfactorily. There had been undesirable nuances: many young people, montages surveying the 600-year history of Christian Lithuania, "Lietuva brangi" ("Beloved Lithuania") was sung, etc. He ended his panagyric with the words: "Foreign agencies, most likely, will be annoyed that I praise loyal clergy."
Šepetys expressed regret that Vatican Radio does not support the loyal priests and sharply criticizes government officials.
The report assumed the customary well-known stile of atheistic lecturers when he began, specifying "offenses" committed by priests and faithful: It was too bad that in 1986, during the religious celebration at Žemaičių Kalvarija, Father Jonas Kauneckas, Father Jonas Pakalniškis, and Father Algirdas Pakamanis spoke in their sermons about the demoralizing effect of atheism on the people of Lithuania. A similar offense was committed also in 1986 by Father Rokas Puzonas during the religious festival at Šiluva. The lecturer was especially annoyed by the annual processions of penance on the knees around the Basilica of Šiluva, which the faithful substituted for pilgrimages from Tytuvėnai to Šiluva, forbidden by the atheists. These new observances, according to Šepetys, arc a demeaning of national dignity.
Central Committee Secretary Šepetys was also displeased by the fact that in several churches of Lithuania, laity spoke. At this point, he mentioned their names together with the "embellishments" so irresistable to the atheists: On May 2,1987, in the church of Kuršėnai, the bandit Jadvyga Bieliauskienė was allowed to speak and on September 13, in the Basilica of Šiluva, Petras Gražulis, Father Antanas Gražulis' driver, a hardened anti-Soviet agitator, was allowed to speak. (Petras Gražulis, the brother of two priests, was sentenced on February 2,1988 to ten months in labor camp. Harrassed by the government for participation in a peaceful demonstration in August, 1987, he was called to repeat military service. His objections on religious and nationalist grounds led to his subsequent arrest and trial. - Trans. Note)
Šepetys advised the deans, Father Stanislovas Ilinčius, and Father Vaclovas Grauslys, to give the matter serious thought. According to Šepetys, the believers should stop their drive for signatures and petitions to government agencies, because this is annoying to the Soviet government, and the officials are people who wish to have a peaceful and normal life.
Unease is also caused by so-called "nunny" women. The government would have nothing against them if they just prayed. But now, they interfere in Church life and what is worse, some of them - as an example he mentioned Nijolė Sadūnaitė — are even getting involved in politics, said Šepetys.
Things are no better at the seminary in Kaunas, for there, according to government figures, between two and four "new politicians" finish studies there every year. Greater accountability should be required of the pastors who write recommendations for such candidates known for their anti-Soviet attitudes. "Who wrote recommendations for Father Antanas Gražulis, Vytautas Prajara, and Father Edmundas Atkočiūnas?" Šeptys wondered.
"What would the government like of the Catholic Church? First of all," Šepetys said to those assembled, "To avoid confrontation in Church-state relations, to support the Peace Fund more strongly - the saddest situation in this matter is in the Dioceses of Kaišaidorys and Telšiai, the best in the Archdiocese of Vilnius — but even it is surpassed by the Orthodox of Vilnius."
In his speech, Šepetys promised that the Regulations for Religious Associations might in the future be made more democratic, that the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda would be returned, that permits would be given to repair some of the other churches. In the hospitals, priests are allowed to minister to seriously ill patients and lately, priests are not peing penalized even for having children serve at Mass or participate in processions. So, there have been a "limitless" number of changes and freedoms.
As always and everywhere, Šepetys did not forget to name all the good which the government is doing the Church, beginning with permission to print a limited number of prayerbooks, and ending with allotments for automobiles to the dioceses.
Finally, in the form of questions which the newspapers later called a "frank exchange of opinions", the bishops and deans were allowed to speak.
The first speaker was Dean Vincas Jalinskas of Lazdijai, who brought up the question of young men not admitted to the seminary by the government. "Would it not be possible to settle the question of candidates to the seminary without the interference of the Office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs?" Father Jalinskas asked.
Šepetys mentioned that there is still much bureaucracy, even in the office of Petras Anilionis. At that point, Anilionis retorted that any other way is impossible because even though there is a screening, such candidates as Edmundas Atkočiūnas, Antanas Gražulis, Vytautas Prajara and others like them get into the seminary.
The Dean of Tauragė, Petras Puzaras, asked why temperence brotherhoods were not allowed to be established in association with the churches. The answer was that this would be a splintering of temperence work, so that is why it is not allowed.
Dean Zenonas Navickas of Saldutiškis spoke quite extensively. He noted that this meeting, like others of a similar nature, were monologues: Essentially, there was no interest in the opinions and wishes of the participants, that the Regulations for Religious Associations, once again mentioned in the report, nullify the freedom of conscience guaranteed by the Constitution, that it is impossible to keep them without transgressing a priest's conscience, that the time had come to re-evaluate those regulations from positions which would be in keeping with equality of all citizens, among them believers, before the law; that the press not be allowed to attack religion or crudely and with accusations made up of whole cloth to libel priests and faithful.
As an example, he indicated the article by V. Balkevičius, published in The Soviet Woman, concerning Mary, the Mother of God; those of Jurginis and Lauraitis about Saint Casimir and Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis; attacks in The Soviet Woman against Father Eugenijus Bartulis, pastor of the parish of Deltuva, and those in the Rayon newspaper against himself. Father Navickas tried to find out on the basis of what specific law or regulation were Father Rokus Puzonas, Robertas Grigas and Nijolė Sadūnaitė kidnapped by the KGB and terrorized.
He demanded that the unfounded accusations and attacks against the bishops be finally stopped. For example, the way the Vice Chairman of the Rayon Executive Committee, together with the inspector from the Office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs, attacked in the presence of other priests and servers, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, as he was coming out to offer Mass, with threats that "If he did not straighten out the affair of Father Rokas Puzonas, it would be necessary to look for another administrator of the diocese."
Except for deviousness, these questions received no answers. The government regulations, in the thinking of government officials, are good; they may even be improved. Concerning any terrorizing of priests or faithful, they had heard nothing, and did not believe it; according to them, no higher officials could have driven the priests and other persons around all night. Unable to provide any answers, they promised that they would try to investigate the incident in Deltuva. On the whole, Šepetys did not know what Father Bartulis had done wrong.
(The press reported that during the meeting Father Navickas had "repeated utterly untrue reports from radio 'voices' (foreign radio services — Trans. Note) concerning alleged government brutality against certain extremist clergy and parishioners". - Gimtasis Kraštas (Native Land), October 7-14, 1987.)
When the Dean of Skuodas, Father Petras Palšis, asked why the government keeps delaying the registration of the church committee in Klaipėda, which could take over the church being returned and begin the work of remodelling, the question was left unanswered. True, there was the beginning of a response that everything would take care of itself, but it remained unclear how.
The Dean of Panevėžys, Father Juozas Antanavičius, urged that the KGB stop troubling candidates for the seminary, forcing seminarians to be hypocrites and to stop coercing them to insulate themselves to all authority. Father Antanavičius gave a number of specific examples of how the children of believing parents are persecuted and spiritually traumatized, so that intimidated by their teachers, they are afraid even to enter the churchyard.
"There's no need for schoolchildren to visit the churchyard." answered the government official, "and anyhow, ti c priests, seminarian* and seminary authorities themselves are to blame."
It seemed that the customary "brainwashing" should have ended there. However, with the country in the process of restructuring, mere brainwashing does not suffice. Shortly thereafter, in republic newspapers, Tiesu, September 18, Gimtasis Kraštas, October 7-14, and somewhat later in the Peasants' Newspaper, articles and news items appeared describing the aforesaid meeting, obviously with the appropriate elipses, exaggerations and even blatant distortions.
To: The Lithuanian S.S.R. Telegraph Agency
Copies to: The Bishops and Administrators of Dioceses
We, the undersigned, summoned to the offices of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the L.S.S.R. for a meeting, went in all good will thinking that we might speak about questions of concern to us regarding Church-state relations. We were surprised to sec how the mass media reported this meeting.
The media indicated that government officials, priests and bishops spoke. As a matter of fact, only Chairman R. Songaila of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the L.S.S.R. and the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the L.S.S.R., Secretary L. Šepetys of the Communist Party of Lithuania, spoke.
When questions were allowed, a number of priests and a bishop submitted questions. In their questions, they touched sore spots in Church-slate relations. How is one to understand such reports as the one that Bishop Antanas Vaičius, seminary Rector Vytautas Butkus and Dean Petras Palšis (written in the newspaper as "Paisys") agreed with ideas brought up at the meeting, when in reality, everyone simply raised questions of concern to them and to the Church of Lithuania.
On September 18, Tiesa published a report by ELTA that Bishop Antanas Vaičius, seminary Rector Butkus and Dean Palšis expressed gratitude "for the conditions necessary to carry out religious ceremonies". There was no such expression of thanks. Is it necessary to express gratitude for rights guaranteed by law? By such an expression, one is given to understand that believers receive the right to religious services only as a special favor from our leaders. This apparently is how the reporters themselves understood it since later, this phrase no longer appeared in the Peasants' Newspaper. Meetings of such importance should be reported objectively and truthfully.
Telšiai, September 20, 1987
Bishop Antanas Vaičius
Deans of the Diocese of Telšiai, Fathers: