THE CHRONICLE OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LITHUANIA
No. 1 [March 19, 1972]
Every summer thousands of Lithuanian mothers prepare their children for their first confession and Holy Communion. This is a difficult task and a great responsibility that demands much dedication on the part of both the parents and the clergy. Soviet laws forbid priests to teach children in order that the atheists may all the more easily disseminate their ideas. A number of priests who lived through the Stalinist reign of terror do not want any conflicts with the authorities and content themselves simply with testing the children. Other priests are courageous and have resolved to obey God rather than men—risking their freedom, they teach children the fundamentals of the faith.
At the sizeable parish in Prienai, about 300 children are prepared every year for First Communion. It was the same in 1971. On July 16 the children, together with their mothers, gathered at the church in Prienai for catechization. As Father Zdebskis was teaching and testing the children, a group of officials forced their way into the church. They photographed the children, asked their names, and drew up a report. A commotion arose in the church. Scandalized by the self-will of the Soviet officials, the parents of Prie-nai appealed to the Control Commission of the Central Committee of the USSR:
"On July 16 of this year, we, the undersigned, brought our children to church so that a priest could test their knowledge—whether they were ready to receive First Communion.
During the summer of 1971, the bishop was to have come to Raseiniai to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. The clergy of the rayonhad been directed by the bishop to test the knowledge of the faith of those about to be confirmed and to issue certificates.
The pastor of the parish in Girkalnis, Father P. Bubnys, informed the believers that the parents should bring their children to the church for the testing. The parents were doing this until one day a group of representatives of the Raseiniai RayonExecutive Committee forced its way into the church. Upon finding the children waiting in church for the priest, the representatives proceeded to round them up and drag them through the town to the fire station; there, by means of intimidation and threats, they forced them to write statements claiming that Father Bubnys had taught them the tenets of their faith. The children were so terrified that they even cried, and some even became ill afterward.
On November 12, 1971, the People’s Court met in session in Raseiniai. Only officials and witnesses were permitted to participate in the trial. The believers had to stand outside the doors. No one expected Father Bubnys to be convicted, for the government officials had come upon him as he was questioning but one child while the other children awaited their turn in the church. Only when the court left for deliberation and a police car drove up to the courthouse, did it become clear to everyone—Father Bubnys would indeed be convicted. The court’s decision, in the name of the LSSR, was to find Father Bubnys guilty, and it handed down a one-year sentence to be served in a strict-regime prison camp. After the decision was read, Father Bubnys was seized, and as the people wept, he was driven to Lukiskis Prison.
On September 28, 1970, the Administrative Penalties Commission of Varėna Rayon fined the pastor of the parish in Valkininkai, Father Algimantas Keina, fifty rubles for violating "the laws concerning religious cults.” Father Keina brought an accusation against the Penalties Commission before the People’s Court of Varėna, requesting that the unjust fine be nullified.
On November 3, 1970, the People’s Court of Varėna Rayondeliberated on the case of the Rev. A. Keina. The chairman of the court was People’s Judge J. Burokas, the defendant—the vice-chairman of the Soviet of Working People’s Deputies Executive Committee, J. Visockis.
The court rejected the claim for the following reasons:
1. "On July 4,1970, three children were being prepared for their First Communion at the sacristy of the church in Valkininkai; they were being taught collectively by Citizen [Miss] E. Kuraitytė.”
2. "On August 30, 1970, the Rev. A. Keina publicly announced that mass would be said for the students’ intention.”
3. "On September 6, 1970, the Rev. A. Keina allowed two underage boys to serve mass.”
For teaching religion to children, Father A. Šeškevičius was sentenced on September 9, 1970, by the People’s Court of Molėtai Rayonto one year in a strict-regime prison camp. Having completed his sentence on September 9, 1971, he appealed to the ecclesiastical administrator of the Diocese of Kaišiadorys requesting that he be appointed to a parish. The commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs refused to issue him a registration certificate and ordered him to find work in some other occupation, supposedly because he had failed to obey the Soviet laws. Then Father Šeškevičius appealed to the chairman of the Council of Ministers of the LSSR:
"If I have supposedly violated Soviet laws, then I have served my sentence and have even received a good charactrization. In addition, when I was released my rights were not curtailed, thus why am I being punished once again and even lifelong without any trial? Even the worst tyrants, when punishing people, specify the article of the violated law, the duration of the sentence, and the agency for appeals. I alone am denied this knowledge. Is there any state in this world which would permit such treatment of its subjects? How can this be reconciled with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by the Soviet Union?
On December 3, 1971, the pastor of the parish in Margininkai, the Rev. Petras Orlickas, was penalized for violating Article 143 of the LSSR Criminal Code—he played volleyball with a group of children!
The decision of the administrative commission of Kaunas Rayonstated that Father Orlickas had worked with children (he had participated in sports, played volleyball), showed cartoons, and so forth.
For a long time it was as if the atheists and Party workers never saw the children playing rowdily and cursing near the collective farm office. The pastor noticed this and set up a volleyball court. Even the most mischievous youngsters did not swear here.
What caused the administration of the Kaunas Rayon, the Party workers, and certain teachers to become uneasy? At the funeral services of a student it was noticed that many students were in the church. The teachers even attempted to take them by the hand and lead them out of the church. In addition, it was known that several boys used to serve mass. The principal did not succeed, though she tried her utmost, in dissuading these children. Then, as usually happens, the officials of the rayonauthorities came to the aid of the Soviet school. Either official security policemen or covert security operatives—we are not certain which—photographed the children at the altar so that they would not think of denying their "misdeed.” Government officials came to the school and started an interrogation. The students were grilled for a long time. Some mothers who had waited in vain for their children to return home from school came looking for them. Disgusted by such terrorization of their children they took them home.
As 1971 was ending, the clergy of the Diocese of Panevėžys appealed to A. Kosygin, the chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, and to the LSSR Council of Ministers. Their petition stated that, since 1961, the Diocese of Panevėžys has been deprived of its bishop, who, by order of the LSSR government, was exiled to Žagarė, which is in Joniškis Rayon.The priests asked that Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius be permitted to perform his duties in the Diocese of Panevėžys, for the LSSR Constitution and the laws do not provide for such curtailment of the rights of those citizens who have not been convicted in court. Also noted in the petition was that the absence of a bishop from his diocese is a great irregularity because in the absence of a bishop Church law permits an ecclesiastical administrator to oversee a diocese for only a short period of time.
The Soviet government did not reply to the petition. The commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs upbraided some of the priests reminding them that it is senseless to write such petitions because they will be ignored.
The Soviet government considers H.E. Bishop Steponavičius disloyal to the government because he had carried out his duties as the shepherd of the diocese without making any compromises.
"To: The General-Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU
The Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers
The Chairman of the LSSR Council of Ministers
The LSSR Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs
A Petition from the Clergy of the Vilnius Archdiocese
"Believers constitute the greater part of the inhabitants of our Republic. They would participate much more actively in the social and political life of our country if conditions were more favorable to them. The Constitution, the Criminal Code, and various international agreements theoretically guarantee that the rights of the believers are equal to those of other citizens. Radio broadcasts to foreign countries, the press, and Lenin’s postrevolutionary decrees also speak of this; but in reality very often it is otherwise.
"The number of priests in Lithuania is constantly decreasing. This is occurring not through some fault of the believers but because of the administrative obstacles created by the government. The field of action of the sole seminary in Lithuania, the theological seminary in Kaunas, is extremely restricted. The authorities strictly limit the number of those who study there; thus many who wish to enter are not accepted. Those who wish to study there are interrogated by various officials and terrorized at their place of employment. Conditions being thus, some candidates are studying theology and becoming priests outside the bounds of the seminary; however, the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs, which is attached to the USSR Council of Ministers, does not permit such priests to carry out their duties (this happened to the Rev. Vytautas Merkys and the Rev. Petras Našlėnas).
On January 13, 1972, in Naujoji Akmenė, the People’s Court heard the case of a seventy-year-old resident of Žagarė, [Miss] Kleopą Bičiušaitė. She had violated the Soviet laws by preparing children for First Communion. To confirm her guilt, twenty-seven witnesses were summoned, mostly children between the ages of seven and fourteen. When Bičiušaitė herself admitted that, over a period of six days in July, 1971, she had taught prayers to children, these witnesses were no longer necessary—they only interfered with the smooth functioning of the trial because of their contradictory testimony. Seeing that some of the children were denying what others had affirmed, the judge began examining the children’s political awareness— how many of them were members of the Young Pioneers. Only four stated that they belonged to the Pioneers.
In his statement the procurator recalled that the constitution permits all citizens to freely profess whatever religion they choose, or to be atheists. No one restricts this freedom or uses any coercion. But the Soviet form of government strives against religion and hoodwinkery because it cannot tolerate the use of religion to hoodwink its citizens. According to the constitution, the Church is separate from the state and the school from the Church. The accused, Biciusaite, however, had taught children in an organized manner such prayers as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Apostles’ Creed, the Angelus, and the Ten Commandments. This the Soviet system cannot allow. It cannot allow anyone to teach children differently from the way they are taught in school.
On December 9,1971, the Rev. Petras Lygnugaris from the parish in Akmenė visited a seriously ill patient at the hospital in Akmenė. Noticing this, the chief physician halted the administering of the last sacraments, and after berating the priest, made him leave the hospital. On December 28 Father Lygnugaris was summoned by the Akmenė RayonExecutive Committee and fined fifty rubles for visiting the patient in the hospital.