"To: Tarasov, the Commissioner of the Council for
Religious Affairs Attached to the Council
of Ministers of the USSR
H.E. Bishop J. Labukas, Apostolic Administrator
of the Kaunas Archdiocese
The Curia of the Vilnius Archdiocese
K. Tumėnas, Commissioner of the Council
for Religious Affairs
Purvaneckaitė, Chairwoman of the Švenčionys
Rayon Executive Committee
A Declaration by the Rev. B. Laurinavičius, a resident of
Adutiškis, Švenčionys R a y o n, the LSSR
"On July 16, 1973, Adutiškis Locality Chairman A. Laurinavičius demanded the church keys. When asked for the reason, he replied, 'An important guest has come from Moscow—Tarasov. He wants to inspect the church.'
"In the churchyard I met you; K. Tumėnas, the LSSR commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs; Purvaneckaitė, chairwoman of the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee; un unknown man; and A. Laurinavičius, chairman of Adutiškis Locality. You questioned me:
1. To the question 'How many come to church?' I replied that I did not know because we do not count. To enable me to answer your question, on July 22, 1973, we counted 722 persons. No conclusion can be drawn from this, however, since many are unable to come to church on account of distance, lack of transportation, and many other obstacles. For instance, one of my parishioners, Feliksas Kairys, bringing me home from sick call, on April 14, 1973, spoke to me with tears in his eyes: 'After working hard for some time, I bought myself a suit, but what's the use? It's been two years now that I've meant to put in on and go to church. Alas, I can't do it because I'm haunted by fear. In the spring, Director Galvydis of the Jakeliai State Farm threatened me, "If you don't come to work on Sunday, you won't get a horse, neither for harrowing nor for bringing in wood, nor any hay for your cow, nor the use of the combine to thresh your barley."'
Povilas Burokas, who lives on the Jakeliai State Farm, got neither hay for his cow nor a prize solely because he would attend church on Sundays.
Burokas and the Steponėnas and the Trečiokas families were not allowed to buy wheat at reduced prices from the state farm also solely because they went to church on Sundays.
Those who attend church would find their names up on the [bulletin] board of shame.
2. To the question 'What is the number of believers in your parish?' I replied that I do not know. It has been over ten years since we were forbidden to visit parishioners during Christmas time, but an accurate list of the faithful can only be made by visiting the families. I can say only this, that before the war there were more than 9,000 parishioners.
3.You asked, 'What are the boards going to be used for?' The church floor needs to be replaced. You said that the flooring is still adequate. I proved that it has been ruined by fungi. The parish makes no unneccesary expenditures because there is no money.
You then emphasized that the church is a state building in which one may not even drive a nail without permission. When the church was nationalized, the living quarters next to it were also nationalized. That house had been built by the grandparents of the parishioners, and it is dear to all. The faithful are upset because it has been neglected and lacks a caretaker. The parochial committee therefore appealed to those presently in charge of the house—the Adutiškis Locality Executive Committee. I, too, as the tenant, made inquiries on May 31, 1968, February 24, 1969, January 28, 1970, and May 24, 1972, because whenever it rains, the roof leaks, and the chimney has begun to fall apart. In spite of the fact that a monthly rent of fifty-six rubles and forty-five kopecks is paid, the roof leaks to this day. Both the parochial committee and I have received the following reply by word of mouth: 'There is no organization which can make repairs.' Strange, that there is an organization to take the money, but none for making repairs!
The churchyard fence, particularly on the street side, has been deteriorating for several years. Passers-by and motorists could have been seriously injured. The responsible rayonofficials have taken no notice of it.
The parochial committee appealed to the rayon headquarters for permission to purchase some cement. The supplicants were told: 'We don't have enough cement for more important needs.' At times the rayon newspaper announces that building materials can be purchased, but when one wishes to buy some, one is told, 'We don't sell to the church.' That was the re-sponse in January of this year from the director of the ŠvenčionysRayon building materials establishment.
Once the believers understood that the church was nationalized only in order that it might fall into disrepair and collapse (as has happened with many churches in Byelorussia), they began to buy building materials, to offer their services, and to repair it themselves.
In spite of the fact that the church has been socialized, the parishioners still consider themselves responsible, because their parents built the church themselves, without any assistance from elsewhere.
4. After having discovered that on July 15 of this year there was a religious festival at the church in Adutiškis, you warned me, 'You are not obeying the Soviet laws. You invited priests to the festival without the permission of rayon authorities.'
I did not request permission on the basis of the agreement which the parochial committee signed with the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee. The second article of the aforementioned agreement clearly states: 'Also granting the opportunity for its use by all other persons of that faith exclusively for the purposes of the religious cult, and preventing ministers of the cult, who are not registered by the LSSR commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs from performing religious rites.' Thus, I invited the priests lawfully.
You then asked the LSSR Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs and the chairwoman of the rayon executive committee, 'Can such agreements be made?' They replied, as you did, that they cannot. It is most regrettable that neither you, nor your retinue, who have been charged with overseeing the affairs of the Church, know what is permissible to us. I advised you to get the secretary of the parochial committee. We could have cleared up the whole matter then and there, and become convinced of who was correct, but you quietly replied, 'If that's the case, we must take possession of the agreement.' It is regrettable that everything is done so one-sidedly. What was permissible according to the agreement is now forbidden.
Hoping to prove that neither you nor those who accompanied you were correct, but rather that I was, I am attaching to this petition a copy of the aforementioned agreement.
"In the Soviet Union the Church is separate from the State, and yet there is probably no other country in the world which interferes so much in Church matters.
"It is understandable that the state rules as it wishes, but the greatest misfortune is that it does not issue any written laws, granting instead unlimited power to vice-chairmen of rayon executive committees, and at times even to chairmen of village localities, who interpret all things as they see fit. They rule over the priests and instruct them even how they should perform religious rites.
"Everyone knows that in the Soviet Union patients are treated, medical students are taught, and in general specialists are prepared only by specialists; however, the Soviet government has entrusted the tutoring of priests to incompetent individuals, to fanatical atheists. Atheists are teaching priests how they are to perform religious rites.
"When I was working in Švenčionėliai, V. Bukielskis, chairman of the Švenčionėliai Executive Committee, instructed me, 'If you want to participate in a funeral procession, take off your vestments and walk behind the common folk. You may walk only in the rear.' When I asked on what he based this order, he pompously replied, 'It's a governmental regulation!'
"What would the faithful think and say if after the funeral procession to the cemetery I would recite only the ending of the prayer 'Eternal Rest' as I was instructed to do by the chairwoman of the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee on October 2, 1972?
"I cannot perform religious rites in any way other than that indicated by Romos katalikų apeigynas Lietuvos vyskupijoms [Roman Catholic book of rituals for Lithuanian dioceses], which was edited by the Liturgical Commission of the Bishops of Lithuania, censored by Soviet organs, and approved by the Congregation of Rites.
"In Soviet Lithuania an ecclesiastical hierarchy still exists—the bishops' curiae, even a ritualistic commission— but it is neither the curiae nor the ritualistic commission who issue instructions but rather utterly incompetent state organs; the curiae retain only the right of consultation.
"If a priest is out of favor with the government, he becomes a victim. I have had to suffer both morally and materially. Hereupon I present the facts. I was removed from the post of pastor of the parish in Švenčionėliai by blackmail: 'If you don't leave Švenčionėliai, you will be unable to do the work of a priest.' This was said by Rugienis, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs.
"The house which I had built alongside the church at Švenčionėliai was confiscated illegally.
"On July 16 I explained that formerly we used to request permission for priests to come to the parish for religious festivals. With time, we stopped asking permission because therayon official assigned to oversee Church affairs began to scoff at us. Vice-Chairman Telyčėnas of the Švenčionys Rayon Executive Committee gave permission for retreats to be conducted on the very same day in all the parishes of the rayon. His purpose was obvious: to disrupt the retreats. No one condemned such derisive conduct on the part of an official of the executive committee. Wishing to justify his action you replied even more cleverly, 'You could have invited priests from some other rayon; from Vilnius, Palanga, or even from other Republics. You mocked no less. The priests of Vilnius have enough work in Vilnius. Palanga is too far away (463 kilometers), and besides, it has only two priests. Some rayons, e.g., Ignalina, do not admit priests from another rayon.
"So it is not even worth considering Palanga or any other rayon, to say nothing of other Republics. The priests of other Republics are not registered with the LSSR commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs; therefore, according to the aforementioned agreement, they cannot minister in Lithuania.
"We priests wish nothing more than to be able to work according to Article 124 of the USSR Constitution and Article 96 of the Lithuanian Constitution, and also to perform religious rites in accordance with the above-mentioned book of rituals.
"On July 10 of this year (1973) the rayon authorities said that they would allow two to three priests to come to religious festivals. Only how could two or three priests have heard the confessions of some fifteen hundred believers on July 13?
"It has happened that priests in Lithuania have died from overexertion after a religious festival, e.g. Father Ražanskas in Šeduva; and Father Garuckas became seriously ill. I therefore invited as many priests as I am duty bound to do by the resolutions of the Synod of the Vilnius Archdiocese, in order that the faithful would find it convenient to get to confession and return home quickly, and most importantly, that they would not have to spend hours on end waiting at the confessional on a workday, since the majority would have come on a workday. I invited enough priests so that the people would be content and would not complain about the government or about me. For all this no debts or expenses were incurred by the rayon. I asked for no financial support for the priests' reception.
"During the czarist era, permission was required for priests to go to a religious festival—writes Bishop M. Valančius in his book Maskoliams katalikus persekiojant [Persecution of Catholics by Muscovites], Kaunas, 1929, p. 32, and A. Alekna in his Bažnyčios istorija [History of the Church], Tilžė, 1920, p. 213 (Tn 1863, the following were forbidden: the construction of new churches, the repair of old ones, and travelling by priests to other parishes for religious festivals.')
"Only Lenin, by abolishing all decrees of the czar, undoubtedly abolished also the one which forbade the invitation of priests to religious festivals. No such or similar decree has been issued during the Soviet era.
Adutiškis, July 31, 1973
The Rev. B. Laurinavičius"