To: The XIX All-Union Party Conference of the Soviet Communist Party From: Priests of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
We are pleased and greatly encouraged by the words of General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union Communist Party Central Committee, uttered in one of his speeches, "Believers are Soviet people, working people, patriots, and they have the complete right suitably to express their beliefs. Restructuring, democratization and openness effects them also. And that completely, without any restrictions." (Tiesa, April 30, 1988)
We feel a moral obligation to appeal to those who make future plans for the life of society and to express the opinion of the faithful about the wrongs which they have experienced. During the Stalin era and the period of stagnation in our nation, the people of all walks of life, among them priests and laity, suffered infinitely much. It hurts that although now, there is much talk about righting those wrongs, the process of restructuring with regard to religion on the part of government organs is almost unnoticeable.
1. We request that wrongs still going on at the present time be righted without delay; namely:
To allow Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, exiled to Žagarė in 1961 without any trial, to return to Vilnius and carry out his episcopal duties without interference;
To issue immediate orders for the release of people imprisoned for carrying out the principles of democratization and equality before the law: Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, laymen Viktoras Petkus, Balys Gajauskas, Petras Gražulis and others;
To return to the faithful the important shrines of Lithuania taken away from them by force: the Cathedral and the Church of Saint Casimir in Vilnius, and also to accelerate the redecoration of the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda;
To allow the reconstruction of the wrecked and burned-down churches in Ryliškės, Batakiai, Gaurė, Kiaunoriai, and Kaltinėnai;
To allow Catholics to erect churches in the new cities and in the new suburbs of the larger cities.
2. In seeking to put into effect the equality before the law of believers and non-believers, emphasized in the Constitutions of the U.S.S.R. and the L.S.S.R., it is essential to arrange it so that Catholics could juridically and actually be able to take care of their own affairs freely, in accord with the Canon Law established by their religion, and good order in their own interior life: in fulfilling international obligations, it is essential to guarantee to believing parents the same possibility of passing on to their children their religious beliefs, as non-believing parents have with regard to their own. It is essential to guarantee that never will any citizen, neither highschooler nor university student, neither teacher nor worker, nor anyone in high authority, be insulted or demeaned for the profession or the public practice of his faith.
It is essential strictly to forbid any officials of the civil government to terrorize youth and men wishing to become priests, and it is essential to allow the latter to enroll in the theological seminary freely, without any quotas.
It is important to strive that every believer could, on important religious holidays, be excused from obligatory work.
3. In the organizational and social sphere, believers must also be given the same rights as atheists, namely: believers' movements and societies serving the promotion of religious life and public decency must be allowed to function (e.g., the Catholic Temperence Movement and welfare organizations).
Representatives of the Catholic Church must be allowed free use of the mass media for disseminating the faith and developing morality. There must be no interference with believers' printing the number and kinds of religious books and newspapers as they desire.
We trust that in these times of restructuring and democratization, pursuing universal justice and truth (we believers support these efforts), the Constitutional principle of the equality before the law of all citizens, believers and non-believers, which the Soviet government has obliged itself to abide by, in signing the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the Helsinki Final Act, finally be realized.
Signed by the following priests, Fathers:
Leonas Kalinauskas, Josvainiai, Kėdainių raj. Jonas Boruta, Vilnius. Jonas Kastytis Matulionis, Vilnius. Juozapas Pačinskas, Telšiai. Ferdinandas Žilys, Stulgiai, Kelmės r. Algirėdas Pakamanis, Žarėnai-Latveliai, Šiaulių r. Donatas Valiukonis, Vilnius. Dr. Petras Puzaras, Tauragė. Liudas Šarkauskas, Kretinga. Vincentas Vėlavičius, Telšiai. Juozapas Razmantas, Žalpiai, Kelmės r. Petras Meilius, Eržvilkas, Jurbarko r. Vincentas Gauronskis, Viekšniai, Akmenės r. Jonas Kauneckas, Skaudvilė, Tauragės r. Alfonsas Bulotas, Vadžgirys, Jurbarko r. Juozapas Slurys, Seda, Mažeikių r. Jonas Bučelis, Mažeikių r. Boleslovas Jonauskas, Šaukėnai, Kelmės r.
Algimantas Keina, Valkininkai, Varėnos r. Mykolas Petravičius, Dubičiai, Varėnos r. Antanas Simonaitis, Navikai, Ignalinos r. Vytautas Rudis, Kalesninkai, Šalčininkų r. Jonas Kukta, Palūšė, Ignalinos r. Antanas Andriuškevičius, Druskininkai. Česlovas Taraškevičius, Rudnia, Varėnos r. Steponas Tunaitis, Tverečius, Ignalinos r. Ignas Jakutis, Ignalina. Jonas Vaitonis, Vilnius. Petras Purlys, Kabeliai, Varėnos r. Josifas Aškelovičius, Eišiškės, Šalčininkų r. Alfonsas Petronis, Ceikoniai, Ignalinos r. Aldas Antanas Čeponis, Dūkštas, Ignalinos r. Petras Tarvydas, Šalčininkų r. Albertas Ulickas, Švenčionys Edmundas Paulionis, Daugėliškis, Ignalinos r.
Leonas Savickas, Adutiškis, Švenčionių r. Marijonas Savickas, Mielagėnai, Ignalinos r. Kazimieras Pukėnas, Nemenčinė, Vilniaus r. Vaclovas Aliulis, Vilnius. Kazimieras Vasiliauskas, Vilnius. Juozas Tunaitis, Vilnius. Stasys Markevičius, Paluknys, Trakų r. Vladas Černiauskas, Marcinkonys, Varėnos r. Vytautas Pūkas, Butrimonys, Šalčininkų r. Medardas Čeponis, Vilnius. Jordanas Slėnys, Varėna. Aušvydas Belickas, Daugėliškis, Ignalinos r.
One signature illegible.
To: General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
Mikhail Gorbachev Copies to: Bishops and Apostolic Administrators of Lithuania From: Priests of the Diocese of Panevėžys
In 1976, when the Regulations for Religious Associations were being drafted, the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church in Lithuania appealed to the Soviet government in writing requesting that the Regulations be in conformity with Canon Law of the Catholic Church. However, at that time, no regard was paid to their wishes. The Regulations were drafted without regard for the rights of believers.
Clergy and laity are supposed to abide by Canon Law; as citizens, they must also abide by the laws of the state, but this is impossible because the very constitution of the U.S.S.R. proclaims the equality of all citizens while right here, it divides citizens into two classes: non-believers and believers. Non-believers are given the right to conduct atheistic propaganda, while believers are given the right only to carry out religious ceremonies.
In order to bring about the equality of non-believers and believers, atheism must be separated from the state, just like the state is separated from religion. Atheism, like religion, must be a private matter. The Church maintains itself without state aid from donations from the faithful; let atheism support itself by donations from its followers. The Church is separated - let it then be allowed to conduct its own affairs. Why do atheistic officials of the state interfere in the internal life of the Church, even canonical activity!
They determine at what age an individual will practice religion; they demand that the association of the faithful be led, not by priests, but by individuals confirmed or even determined in advance by the government; they set the quota of seminarians at the only theological seminary, that of Kaunas; without clearance by security organs and their concurrence, candidates cannot enroll in the seminary, the administration or faculty of the seminary cannot be appointed. Similarly, without them, a priest cannot be assigned to a parish nor a bishop to a diocese. We have come to a state in which a quarter of the parishes in Lithuania are without priests, and the Diocese of Panevėžys does not have a bishop of its own.
The quantity of prayerbooks and catechisms published in former years is so small that it is impossible to provide them for many of the faithful. It is already the latter part of May, and we still have not received from the printers the Catholic Calendar-Directory which is needed by the priests since January, 1988. To say nothing of religious books or literature.
The war ended in 1945. The Diocese of Panevėžys did not receive permission to rebuild churches which had burned down or to build needed new ones.
Even the highest government officials do not recognize equality between believers and atheists. In official speeches, demands are made for official warfare against religion and strengthening of atheistic propaganda - as if against criminals. In the present circumstances, it is not possible even to dream that anyone in the government would say anything in favor of believers. Believing students and white collar workers experience discrimination in practice, even though this is denied.
We therefore request:
1.That in drafting the new religious regulations, true freedom of conscience be guaranteed, respecting believers. In discussions of the regulations, representatives of the dioceses of the Church in Lithuania should participate.
2.For a more successful struggle against various evils in society, the Church should be granted the right to use appropriate measures: press, radio, television; to allow temperence and welfare organizations to operate; not to interfere with priests visiting parishioners or renting automobiles for the religious and spiritual needs of believers.
3.Not to restrict the preparation of children for the sacraments, to allow children and youth to study catechism (as is done in other socialist countries: Hungary, Poland, etc.).
4.Not to interfere with Catholics celebrating holy days of obligation.
5.To recognize the rights of a juridical person for the parish religious association.
6.To name as leaders of the parish religious association (committee chairpersons) priests and not laymen; this is required by the spiritual mission of the Church and Canon Law (just as neither orderlies nor ambulance drivers can be hospital directors).
7.Not to interfere in the Church leadership choosing suitable candidates for the priesthood, appointing seminary administration and faculty, priests for the parishes and for the dioceses, candidates to the episcopacy.
8.Not to interfere with the procession to the cemetery in honor of the deceased on All Souls'. There can be no freedom of conscience if atheism is supported on a government level by all means, while the faithful experience discrimination.
Signed by Fathers:
99. Petras Tijušas
To: Secretary of the Communist Party of the Lithuanian S.S.R., L. Šepetys From: Priests of the Diocese of Telšiai and the Klaipėda Prelature
The heart of Vilnius is its area of castles, the entire complex of hills and valleys and fortifications, whose multifaceted meaning is only now beginning to be understood.
A very important element in that historic district is Bald Hill (the hill of the three crosses). The tradition of the carving of the crosses at its summit goes back four centuries. Erected in 1613, re-erected in 1740, the crosses stood until 1869, until they disintegrated. But the Czar's government would not allow them to be re-erected. That was done only in 1918, during the austerity of wartime. The monument was planned by the Samogitian petty noble, the architect Vivolskis. People of all nationalities in the area of Vilnius were involved in realizing the plan and re-erecting the crosses. The three crosses used to remind the residents of Vilnius of the beginnings of the Catholic religion in the city, and provided a feeling of peace and calm. However, one night in 1960, the concrete monument of the three crosses was blown up. At that time, Vilnius lost such sacred sculptures as T. Rigys's sacred figures over the cathedral facade, Professor K. Jelskis's sculptures on top of the Evangelical Reformed Church, etc.
We demand that the sculpture of the three crosses, as planned by Vivolskis, be re-erected on the still extant foundations, at the summit of Bald Hill, that the long-standing position be supported, and that the hill not become bald in the full sense of the term.
Signed by Fathers:
V. Vėlavičius, Telšiai
J. Šiurys, Telšiai
A. Arnašius, Kuršėnai
B. Jonauskas, Šaukėnai
A. Svarinskas, Viduklė
J. Gedvila, Mažeikiai
B. Talaišis, Kretinga
J. Tamašauskas, Darbėnai
J. Pačinskas, Plungė
J. Paulauskas, Gargždai
B. Burneikis, Klaipėda
J. Miklovas, Palanga
V. Šlevas, Žygaičiai
A. Pudžemys, Mosėdis
A. Striukis, Akmenė
B. Latakas, Rietavas
B. Bagužas, Salantai
J. Pakalniškis, Laukuva
J. Razmantas, Žalpiai
K. Žukas, Viekšnaliai
A. Šeškevičius, Gargždai
J. Boruta, Vilnius
V. Mikutavičius, Telšiai
D. Skirmantas, Laukžemė
M. Šulcas, Klaipėda
V. Jušys, Alsėdžiai
J. Šukys, Telšiai
A. Putramentas, Skuodas
A. Genutis, Seda
V. Gauronskis, Viekšniai
T. Poška, Telšiai
A. Gylys, Židikai
J. Petrauskis, Varniai
V. Matekaitis, Vėžaičiai
K. Rimkus, Nemakščiai
K. Velioniškis, Tverai
L. Dambrauskas, Žemaičiu Kalvarija
K. Jadviršis, Akmenė
L. Veselis, Gargždai
A. Ričkus, Plateliai
P. Palšis, Skuodas
P. Puzaras, Tauragė
A. Pranckaitis, Eigirdžiai
A. Budvius, Telšiai
J. Bučelis, Mažeikiai
N. Sobkovskis, Telšiai
An Open Letter to L.S.S.R. Prosecutor Liudvikas Sabučius, the Restructuring Movement and the Editors of the Newspaper Truth, Communist Youth Edition.
Even though it is only 8 o'clock in the morning, officials of state security and the public order are all ready to go to work full-tilt. On the morning of May 3, the neighborhood of the L.S.S.R. Supreme Court, all the way to the Lenin Prospect, was being closely guarded by the defenders of the interests of the state and agents of law and order. All side streets leading to the courthouse were cordoned off. Officials were ready for a serious fight with anyone who even tried to take an interest in the criminal trial of Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, during which they arrested a second priest, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius.
At about 9 o'clock, it became clear that all the security measures had not been taken in vain: several hundred of the faithful really did try "threateningly" to approach the courthouse. The officials went to work seriously. Right there in the street, they entered the crowd of people. Taking them under the arms, they hauled one after another of the "criminals" who had not had time to open their mouths, to the militia station, accused them and gave them jail sentences or fines for the strangest things. Two polite-looking girls are arraigned; they are accused of using physical force against militia officers. One young believer, who had not uttered a single bad word, got ten days for "cursing", and two other girls were hauled to jail because, in front of the courthouse, they had dared right under the noses of the officials to speculate in shoes, of which they had no more than one on each foot.
Even the very zealous guardians of law and order were not able to arrest all those assembled. Some they apprehended, stuffed into automobiles prepared beforehand, and drove them to the woods. No, they did not shoot them. That time, they did not shoot people in the woods. They just drove them 30 to 50 km. from Vilnius and left them scattered by one or two in the gloom of the Forest of Nemenčinė and Dubingiai.
This incident was not during the Stalin era, it was the Brezhnev era, someone has perceptively called the era of stagnation. However slowly, this rigidity is receding from almost all areas of life, somehow, however, skirting the faithful. How else explain the fact that even in these times of openness, nobody to date has deigned to reply to written protests signed by tens of thousands of believers. Radio, television and the press claim as before that religion is free. The rights of believers are not restricted. No attempt is even made to solve specific problems which have developed between believers and the state. As if nothing had happened, they go on teaching everyone the same tired formulae:
"things are improving", "things are becoming friendlier", "things are normaliz- ing .
How much can things be "-izing" when the facts show something quite different. True, they are promising to return the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda. But have they revealed who took it unjustly? Have they made public how they used to round up the "witches" -- those collecting signatures. How the pages with the signatures of the faithful used to be seized and destroyed on the spot? And how about the efforts of all the appropriate agencies to check who had signed, why, validly or not, etc., etc. But all that was done not so long ago, just yesterday, actually, today.
It is impossible to mention all of the injustices at one time. There are too many of them. We shall touch upon one which, like a post-war theme in the words of the writer, R. Gudaitis, goes through the very heart of the Lithuanian, in this case, the believer. This was the arrest and imprisonment of the priests who defended the faithful, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius. And they defended not some kind of fabricated rights, but the right guaranteed by Art. 50 of the Constitution, freely to confess the faith of one's choice.
To speak more fully about Father Svarinskas is still difficult today, especially for us people of Kybartai. He was simply born too soon. In the post-war years, the Stalinist mechanism for "purging" the nations pinned on him the sobriquet of bandit, and sent him off to Siberian imprisonment, where at that time, a great part of the intellectuals of the day, were.
The trial just embellished the sobriquet: "bandit" became "anti-Soviet". Incidentally, neither we nor a great number of others who have the least acquaintance with Father Svarinskas, believes that. Even the documentary film, Who Are You, Father Svarinskas? failed to convince.
It is still too early to try to exonorate a "bandit", even one who never had a weapon in his hand. So we shall be patient, and wait until history dots every "i", or, as it is fashionable to say today, fills in the blanks of history.
Let us speak about Father Sigitas Tamkevčiuss. He is personally known to us. During the post-war years, "he was still attending the Middle School of Seireijai". That is how he is written up in the article shockingly called, "In One Hand A Stick, In the Other, a Rosary" (Tiesa, 12-3-83), by the journalist Stasė Mockuvienė (you cannot call a teenager a bandit). And what is that "stick" which Father Tamkevičius so zealously applied?
In the first place, it was the word of Truth from the pulpit, which was recognized by officials and responsible agents as "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" and "vilification of Soviet life". And how are we believers to view all that calmly, when today's newspapers and magazines sparkle with even sharper criticism, when entire decades are called a political mistake which brought the country to stagnation, when one after another, evils are brought up, and their authors, instead of being described as "anti" are presented to the public as proponents of restructuring and its active supporters. Where is the logic in this?
Today, we are all glad that the government is making efforts toward sobriety. The war against alcoholics and distillers has become so serious that it has led even to ration cards for sugar. Who were the first to start the struggle for sobriety? The first heralds in the struggle for a sober way of life were priests, among them, Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius, the late Father Juozas Zdebskis, et. al. They were among the first to understand the damage done by alcohol to the person, the family and the nation. Boldly from the pulpits, they urged everyone to change their way of life. They created the sobriety movement, criticized the state apparatus which, with an overly free hand, produced and sold alcoholic beverages.
Yes, they cut down the production of alcoholic beverages, restricted their sale, and "forgot" to remove the "anti" lable from him who, without waiting for the opportune moment, first set forth to do battle with evil.
Father Sigitas Tamkevičius urged people from the pulpit to turn their attention to the families, to seek their permanency; he spoke out especially strongly against abortion as a phenomenon demoralizing man. "If there are no strong families, if a family raises fewer than three children, we shall destroy ourselves," said Father Tamkevičius. And strange as it may seem today, this idea is being published in the press, almost word for word.
Nor was Father Tamkevičius hesitant about the nationality question, he spoke publicly from the pulpit against the introduction of the Russian language into kindergarten. He said that the Lithuanian in Lithuania can and should speak the native Lithuanian language, and that if people from other republics living among us for many years do not know the Lithuanian language, it is the fault of us Lithuanians.
Here is a quotation from the resolution of the XIX Air-Union Conference of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union regarding the question of nationalities and their relationships: "A very important principle of our multinational state is that all citizens of the U.S.S.R. should be able freely to nurture native languages and make use of them equally before the law... to urge that citizens of other nationalities living in its territory should study the language."
Is it not strange that the thinking of the resolution and of Father Tamkevičius are so similar, but the fate of the authors of the ideas, alas, is not.
How could Father Sigitas Tamkevičius not have misgivings about still another negative phenomenon in our society: the persecution and terrorizing of children, youth and adults on account of their religious convictions. Publicly, from the pulpit, he criticized the distorted atheistic education being carried out in the schools. He publicized examples of teachers forcing believing children to join atheistic organizations, forcing them to speak and write against their own convictions, and ridiculing them. That Father Tamkevicms spoke the truth is clear to us. We and our children have experienced it firsthand. Finally, even the atheists today say that the situation in this regard has changed little, albeit they speak under their breath: "Still alive are the traditions of the past when it was considered almost good form to ridicule a believer. Even that Constitutional freedom of conscience, alas, remain only on paper," writes Audrius Užkenis (Mokslievis, No. 1, Jan. 1988).
APN commentator, A. Ignatov, writes, "I have just returned from the Rostov Region, in the land of the Cossacks, where the Kamenolomni live, I heard two sides of a routine conflict. Tatiana Duriagina complained to the editor of the APN publication, Religion in the USSR, that she had been summoned to the headquarters of the Executive Committee and threatened with public denunciation because her children go to church not with her, as would be fitting, but with their grandmother, or alone. The teachers at the local school began discussing why children believe in God, whether there is a God, and who has seen Him." (Evening News, March 30,1988)
And here, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, for publicizing similar examples, was convicted by the court of "vilifying the policy of our government with regard to the Church and believers," and they even claimed that this had been established "based on the testimony of witnesses".
And who were those witnesses? Believers? Students who had experienced religious discrimination? No! Strange as it might seem — educators, yes, the very ones who used to transgress against Par. 50 of the Lithuanian SSR Constitution. They ridiculed, they demeaned our children, they even "testified" that they were "vilified". And the court was satisfied with such "witnesses".
Of more or less two hundred believers questioned, security investigators saw no need to enter into the records of interrogation and to use during the trial a single instance of terrorizing our children on account of religion! Not a single demonstrated testimony defending our pastor, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius.
One more - perhaps the most serious - accusation: Father Sigitas Tamkevičius belonged to the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, and took an active part in its work. The Committee often used to have their documents publicized abroad. One of their complaints defending the faithful they even addressed to UNESCO.
However, in these times of opennesss, when multilateral ties with foreign countries are being developed, this makes no impression on anyone. The only thing which does not fit in the concept of openness is the revelation of military or state secrets. But here there really is no military and no state secret. Finally, where could one turn when soviet agencies used to respond to declarations and protests with nothing but new repressions.
During the trial, it was established that "Father Tamkevičius knew that he would have to answer before the law." Yes, he knew, and still he stood up, not for his own personal interests, but for the Truth. And for that:
"The Supreme Court of the Lithuanian SSR, having considered the material in the case, having heard the witnesses, has found Sigitas Tamkevičius guilty according to the first part of Par. 68 of the Lithuanian S.S.R. Criminal Code (anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda), and sentenced him to six years deprivation of freedom, and gave him a supplemental sentence of four years exile.
No, this is not the era of Stalin, and no one shot us in the forests of Dubingiai or Nemenčinė.
Nor were Father Tamkevičius or Father Svarinskas tried in absentia, as was done during the Stalin era. In a closed courtroom, filled only by witnesses (except for family members of those on trial), and those acceptable to the KGB, an "open" trial took place.
Regardless of the fact that questioning nearly two hundred of the faithful, the KGB used illegitimate methods of investigation (leading questions, threats, interrogation of minors without their parents being present), and in spite of the fact that they did not find among them anyone to witness against these priests, nevertheless, they sentenced them. And not to one or two years, but to ten.
This is no wonder. We believers are accustomed to it. But we have not accepted, and have not become reconciled to such a situation. We therefore ask how to reconcile all this with openness and democracy?
When will socialist justice finally smile upon the believer and the priest?
Postscript to the editors of Truth, Communist Youth Edition: we turn to your newspaper which has advanced the furthest on the road to democracy and openness. We trust that room will found in it to discuss the problems of the believer also. In case of publication, we ask you not to condense the text. We are tired of fragments taken out of context.
Signed by the following residents of Kybartai: