To the Beloved Shepherds of the Roman Catholic Church and Friends of Lithuania1
His Eminence Cardinal Antonio Samore
His Eminence Cardinal Josef Slipij
1Cardinal Samore, an influential official in the Vatican, served in the Vatican Legation in Lithuania in the prewar years and is considered a great friend of Lithuania. Cardinal Slipij, leader of the Ukrainian Catholics, served many years in Soviet prisons. He was in the same prison cell with the Lithuanian priest, Pranas Radiunas (see note 3 below).
Our nation on its way to Golgotha—in the Gulag Archipelago, Siberia, and in exile in the Western world—has met many remarkable personages. Some of them have extended a hand of physical and moral assistance, while others by their personal example and heroic suffering strengthened our nation's resolve to struggle for God and for the most elementary human rights. To those noble spirits we are grateful, and we pray the Most High to grant them every kind of blessing.
Among those good friends of ours are you, honorable shepherds. Today, as we continue our life-and-death struggle for victory, oppressed as we are with difficulties, we wish to open our hearts to you. We trust you will hear and understand us.
To our misfortune, all who travel from here to Rome and back undergo briefings in Moscow and are required to render a written account of themselves. Objective information, therefore, is possible only from the deep underground. Even this reaches the West belatedly through theChronicle of the Catholic Church or through individual tourists.
The atheists, supported by government propaganda and by the State Security Committee, are disseminating the idea world-wide that in Lithuania there is no religious discrimination, and that the Soviet Union does not even know the meaning of the term "political prisoner." To this propaganda wagon, even certain clergy are hitched.
Last year the Soviet Union sent to the USA a delegation of clergy of various religions, among them the administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, Monsignor Česlovas Krivaitis.2The delegation failed in its purpose, because the Ukrainians and the Lithuanians demonstrated and showed the world the truth concerning the disguised persecution of the Church in Ukraine and Lithuania. However, the atheists attained this much: they compromised in the eyes of the faithful a high-ranking clergyman.
The Catholic public thought that on this matter Bishop Juozas Labukas, Chairman of the Lithuanian College of Bishops would have something authoritative to say, and that he would force the compromised clergyman to resign his post.
2Monsignor Krivaitis visited the United States in February of 1976 with a "Delegation of Representatives of Christian Churches in the USSR" as a guest of the National Council of Churches.
However, on his return Monsignor Krivaitis was met in Vilnius by Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas, pastors from Vilnius, and the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs K. Tumėnas. During the testive dinner at his suburban villa, Monsignor Krivaitis told Tumėnas, "Minister, you gave me a very difficult assignment."
"But you carried it out honorably," the representative for cult encouraged the monsignor.
With the failure of one trick, the atheists seized upon another. By Vatican Radio we learned that from August 1 to 8, the 41st International Eucharistic Congress would be taking place. Immediately the rumors spread that a delegation from Lithuania would be bound for the USA, headed by several bishops. Now we know approximately the make-up of this delegation: Bishop Liudas Povilonis, Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, Canon Juozas Meidus, the Rev. Dr. Viktoras Butkus, Canon Čėsna, the Rev. Pranas Račiūnas MIC, the Rev. Jonas Juodelis, and the Rev. Vytautas Sidaras.3
After Easter, Bishop Labukas visited the exiled Bishop Sladkevičius and indicated that the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs K. Tumėnas had assigned him the task of organizing the delegation. It must be recalled that the same Tumėnas had organized the delegation to Rome for the Holy Year.
One other circumstance must be noted. During the fifteen years of Bishop Sladkevičius' exile, Bishop Labukas had not visited the exiled bishop; and now, at the order of Tumėnas, he did not let eighty years of heavy burdens nor poor eyesight deter him.
The Catholic public has begun to be uneasy not only regarding the delegation being organized by atheists, but especially concerning the honored exile, Bishop Sladkevičius. It is thought that the plan is to compromise the former long term prisoners the Rev. Pranas Račiūnas and the Rev. Jonas Juodelis in the eyes of political prisoners who are religious believers. Undoubtedly this delegation, by its passive attendance, is supposed to demonstrate to the West the freedom of religion in the Soviet Union and in Lithuania.
3The Lithuanian delegation to the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia arrived on July 28, 1976, consisting of nine clergy. Included in the delegation were Bishop Liudvikas Povilonis, Bishop Romualdas Krikščiūnas, the Rector of the Inter-Diocesan Seminary in Kaunas Rev. Viktoras Butkus, and a number of pastors and diocesan administrators. Bishop Sladkevičius refused to go, but two pastors, the Rev. Pranas Račiūnas and the Rev. Jonas Juodelis, who had spent time in Soviet Prisons, did participate.
Bishop Sladkevičius rejected this offer and staunchly refused to go to America. He demanded that reparation first be made—that after fifteen years in exile, he be allowed to assume the See of Kaišia-šiadorys. At the present time, Bishop Sladkevičius lives under inhuman circumstances, discriminated against by both spiritual and civil authorities. The diocesan chancery of Panevėžys, urged by the government, at the death of the pastor of Nemuno Radviliškis, Bronius Šukys, forced Bishop Sladkevičius to assume the duties of pastor in this small village parish, and to be overwhelmed by the routine of minor repairs.
At the end of April, Bishop Labukas invited Bishop Sladkevičius to the Kaunas chancery. Bishop Sladkevičius went to see Bishop Labukas and once more stated that under the circumstances he would not be able to travel to the USA. Then Bishop Labukas said that in that case Bishop Sladkevičius could remain in exile for life, adding, "I told them that the 'Red Guards' would attack you." (Very often officials, diocesan staff, and some seminary professors call the most zealous priests by this Chinese name. This title was given to zealous priests by officials of the State Security Committee).
This attempt to pressure Bishop Sladkevičius into joining the delegation being organized by Tumėnas was made for several reasons. First of all, they wanted to compromise an honorable bishop in the eyes of the faithful. The atheists do not like martyrs. They prefer deserters and compromisers. Bishop Sladkevičius himself thought that he might not be allowed to return, and that he would be then placed permanently in a different exile.
At the beginning of this year (1975) the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs, K. Tumėnas, gave lectures in all diocesan chanceries throughout Lithuania regarding the economic condition of the country and Church affairs.4 The conclusions arrived at by Tumėnas went something like this:
The ecclesiastical deans must see that the priests keep quiet, that they do not write protests. In that case it might be possible to an agreement with the Vatican regarding the appointment of new bishops. He promised he would allow the publishing of a limited number of prayer books. He staunchly refused to allow the publication of catechisms. Thus, the attitude of the civil authorities towards the Church has not changed.
Not long ago, Cardinal Alfred Bengsch visited Lithuania.5 It is rumored that Bishop Labukas has been invited for a return visit to
4See the account of one such "lecture" in this Chronicle, p. 5Cardinal Bengsch of Berlin made a whirlwind tour of Lithuanian dioceses on August 22-25, 1975. He obviously was on a mission of the Vatican to survey religious situations of the spot. For the response of dissident Catholics, see The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania No. 19, p. 3.
Berlin.6 On that journey he will be accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Butkus, who has the complete confidence of the civil authorities. Priests and faithful believe that through Bishop Labukas, the Soviet government will offer the Apostolic See a compromise: to allow Bishop Sladkevičius to return to the diocesan See of Kaišiadorys, while the See of the Archdiocese of Vilnius would go to the Rev. Dr. Butkus. Bishop Steponavičius would remain in exile for good. If this plan goes through, it will be the most painful tragedy of our religious life.
The rector of the seminary, the Rev. Dr. Vytautas Butkus, is an active participant in the communist movement of peace supporters. He travels abroad freely, spending at least a third of the academic year away from the seminary, whose spiritual life and morale are unenviable, causing concern among all. Because of the limits imposed by the government, the student body lacks quantity; and because of the negligence of the seminary administration, it lacks quality. The rector of the seminary leaves much to be desired in his personal life. Several years ago, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius wrote to Bishop Labukas calling attention to certain facts in the rector's personal life. Nevertheless, there is a rule among us, that he who is protected by the civil government goes unscathed by the Code of Canon Law.
If Father Butkus were to become a bishop, this would be a great misfortune for the Catholic Church and a great comfort to the atheists working to wreck the Church from within.
Honorable Shepherds, faithful friends of our nation, we ask you to place this complaint of our nation at the feet of the Holy Father.
The Editors of the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania
6There are indications that Bishop Labukas, the President of the College of Bishops in Lithuania, made a return visit to Cardinal Bengsch in Berlin sometime in August or September of 1976. No details of this visit are available.
Good Shepherd Sunday, May 9, 1976