After the arrests of Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius and Jonas-Kąstytis Matulionis, some priests --collaborators with the Soviet government and the more timid ones-- took it upon themselves to disseminate the idea that in case of conflict with the atheistic government, concessions must be made. Voices were heard daring to consider the self-sacrificing activities of the priests as unwise excesses and to accuse them of undoing unity, and the like. Those thinking differently and acting otherwise they called short-sighted, detrimental to Church unity.
The government atheists immediately spotted the altered morale among priests. In one of his earlier discussions with priests, Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis emphasized that after the arrests of Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius, the attitudes of priests improved, and
The founding members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers Rights. From left to right: Fathers Sigitas Tamkevičius, Vincentas Vėlavicius, Juozas Zdebskis, Alfonsas Svarinskas and Jonas Kauneckas. Fathers Tamkevičius and Svarinskas are each serving 10 year terms in labor camp and internal exile. Father Juozas Zdebskis was killed in an automobile accident under mysterious circumstances on February 5, 1986. (See Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, No. 70.)
he emphasized that this will undoubtedly have positive results for the entire Catholic Church. That fear and flattery of the government atheists, under cover of the misleading word "diplomacy", have hastened the return of the times of Murovjov and Stalin, is witnessed by the meeting June 27, 1986, in Vilnius, of Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis with the bishops and administrators of dioceses of Lithuania.
On June 27, 1986, Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis summoned all Lithuanian bishops and administrators of dioceses to the diocesan chancery of Vilnius for the traditional summer "brainwashing". If the Commissioner tried to be tactful during the meetings with diocesan deans, and tried to convince them of religious freedom, then speaking with the bishops and administrators, he was angry and severe. The Commissioner began his talk with an angry accusation: "Among the participants in this meeting are Chronicle correspondents, thanks to whom the Vatican was immediately informed of our past meeting."
There followed various accusations and threats against the bishops for not straightening out the priests and seminarians. "In the seminary, there was a bad situation... even though after that first incident, when two seminarians were detained by the militia trying to bring into the seminary Juozas Girnius' book Man without God, Vice Rector Vytautas Vaičiūnas assured them that illegal literature of that nature would not be tolerated in the seminary, but it is known that books copied on the typewriter are circulating in the seminary, even today. Those whom we apprehend, we will punish without compunction," said Anilionis.
Quoting Canon Law, the Commissioner asserted that Church law forbids priests to offer Mass or preach in a neighboring parish, that permission of the bishop or the pastor is not enough for this, and consent of the atheists is needed: permission from the rayon Executive Committee. "It is time, at last, to have done with priest-extremists' tours of religious festivals," Anilionis railed. "All those travelling without rayon permission and those priests hosting them wi11 be fined, and if that does not help, we will return to the earlier forceful practice of confiscating registration cards. If that still does not help, the priests themselves will be put to physical labor. Also, those priests who give reduced statistics regarding religious ministrations for the purpose of falsifying financial reports will receive appropriate penal ties."
Anilionis was particularly displeased by the massive gathering of priests for the religious festivals at Žemaičių Kalvarija (Calvary of the Lowlanders) and Šiluva, where reparation services are held on the 13th of each month. "Why do priests have to accompany the procession around the Hills -- let the people go by themselves! If such gatherings of extremist priestsrecur, it will be necessary to enforce the law that a
Pilgrims making the Way of the Cross in Žemaičių Kalvarija. Nineteen chapels were built along the banks of the Varduva River during the 17th Century, each representing an aspect of the Passion of Christ.
single religious association can have only one house of prayer; we shall be forced to close the chapels at Žemaičių Kalvarija and the chapel at Šiluva. The first test of your good-will will be the festival of Žemaičių Kalvarija. It must go by as simply and as quietly as possible, without any processions or gathering of extremists," Anilionis loudly set forth his demands.
"Although those serious disturbers of the peace, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius have been 'pacified', new ones nevertheless appear, and so the peace is disturbed again by various writings in which the Soviet government is lectured, and the extremists dare to teach even you, the bishops," said the Commissioner, "but the worst thing is that the example of the extremists has been followed even by the Committee for the Lithuanian Christianity Jubilee, led by Bishop Juozas Preikšas, in its letter to the Soviet government in which impossible things are requested: the return of the Cathedral of Vilnius, of the Church of Saint Casimir, of the Church of the Queen of Peace in Klaipėda, etc. These demands shall not be satisfied, and if the jubilee committee continues along the extremists' path, we will forbid the commemoration of the Baptism of Lithuania, and dissolve the committee itself,"
The late Petras Paulaitis returned to Lithuania in 1982 after serving 35 years in Soviet prison camps. Following his death on February 19, 1986, government officials attempted to impose a secular funeral. Paulaitis was buried, as a life-time believer, with the full rites of the Church.
Anilionis threatened the bishops.
He urged them to be assured that there shall be no unilateral concessions on the part of the government. "We are allowing you to restore churches in Vilnius, Kaunas and in some other cities. We have allowed you to purchase building materials in government stores. (Anilionis "forgot" that according to Soviet law, church buildings are state property, so permission to renovate them, even from a formal viewpoint, is not so great a concession to the Church.)
"To these concessions, the Church must respond with concessions," Anilionis said, "straightening out the priest-extremists --namely preventing them from running around to all the religious festivals-- purging the seminary of illegal literature and disciplining initiators and collectors of signatures to petitions and letters to government agencies."
He brought up the accusation that till now, there had been no suitable reaction to concessions granted by the Soviet government. "For instance, in Kretinga," the Corrmissioner continued, "the state gave permission to rebuild the steeple which had burned down during the war and to cast new bells; to that end, permission was given to consult even with specialists from Democratic Germany. And how did the pastor of Kretinga and consul tor of the diocese, Father Bronius Burneikis, show his gratitude for that? When Petras Paulai t is, a hardened ant i-Soviet agitator and participant in bourgeous national gangs died, government officials asked the pastor not to inter the ex-criminal with Church services. The pastor paid no attention to the request and prepared a solemn funeral. See how the extremists respond to the government," Commissioner Anilionis complained.
It should be explained that the funeral of Petras Paulaitis was, from the viewpoint of the Church, just like that of any rank-and-file Catholic and to the demand of the KGB that the deceased not be interred with Church services, the pastor correctly replied, "He was a practicing Catholic, who died after receiving the sacraments, so I have no basis or right to refuse a religious funeral. He was buried just like every practicing Catholic."
It is not for government officials to determine who may and who may not be buried with a Church service. The late Petras Paulaitis was waked, not in church but a home, and he was not draped with the national flag, as Anilionis said; only a small national ribbon was pinned to his chest. Father Liudvikas Šarkauskas held funeral services for the deceased.
After Anilionis' lecture, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius raised some questions. Speaking to the deans in Kaišiadorys, Anilionis illustrated his claims about complete religious freedom in Lithuania wi th examples, purporting to show that children of believing parents hold responsible positions: they serve as deputies, communal farm chairmen and rectors of institutes.
Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius reminded the Commissioner that this does not show freedom of religion if people in positions of deputies and directors of institutes are forced to conceal their beliefs, because it is a matter, not of the parents or grandparents, but of their children. Bishop Sladkevičius gave the Commissioner a concrete example of infringement upon freedom of belief and of expression of belief, the occasion on which government officials rudely accosted Father J. Kaminskas in the church of Molėtai as he was hearing the children's catechism.
What falsehood and deceit! The government atheists are "allowing" the repainting of the walls in some buildings confiscated by the government, while at the same time, doing everything by various forms of persecution: threats, fines and even arrests, to see that the churches are empty...
This is only the beginning of concessions expected by the government... As is well known, the chief arbiter of religious affairs in the Soviet Union, Kharchev, on a visit to Lithuania, has stated, "The Catholic Church of Lithuania must be autocephali tic, and that is, independent of Rome."
One must expect that in the near future, in return for permission to refurbish one or two church buildings, the Soviet government will demand such a concession also.
These are the kind of relaxations which will be brought about by the "improved" climate among priests since the arrests of Fathers Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius. according to Anilionis, speaking to the diocesan deans. What kind of "brighter" (!!!) future acquiescence to the Soviet government is leading to, the Commissioner specified only to the bishops.
If there is no serious opposition to such demands from the government and submission continues, we shall, before long, feel painful and perhaps hardly rectifiable consequences.
Soviet historian R. Vėbra characterizes persecution of the Church in the Murovjov era as follows: "It was forbidden to have any gatherings or to hold services in private homes without police permission... Priests were forbidden to visit other parishes, or while visiting them, to hold Mass... A system of fines for not observing these regu I at ions was introduced." (R. Vėbra, Lithuanian Catholic Clergy and Social Action, Vi I n i us,1968}
So the times of Murovjov and Stalin are returning! These designs on the part of the atheists are intimidating and disturbing many and dampening spirits. We are preparing for the beatification of the Servant of God, Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis. He had to live under similar conditions. In such a situation, he encouraged his contemporaries, "What remains to be done? Surely not to renounce our vocation? Surely not to acquiesce and submit to all matter of injustice, contrary to the law of the Church, and to the tendency to do nothing? Surely not to renounce our highest ideals, to become rusty, curled up and withdrawn out of fear? If we were to act so, then we would see that one day they would go so far as to forbid us to be Catholics. No, absolutely no!
"We must procede bravely and boldly along the road which God shows us, where the spirit of God leads us and urges us to go, disregarding all obstacles and fearing nothing. If we are full of the spirit of God, we are bound to overcome everything in the end. The spirit cannot be bound in chains nor shut up in prison, nor kept in exile. Only enkindle our hearts, Lord, with the fire of your love!"