"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).
"Is this normal? Yet J. Rimaitis asserts in Religion in Lithuania(Vilnius: Gintaras, 1971), an informational booklet intended for foreign readers, that 'the government does not hamper the training of new priests’ (p. 21).
"The Soviet government proclaims to the whole world that 'the Church is free to make use of all the means of religious propaganda’ (ibid., p. 30). But in reality this is not so. The believers in Lithuania do not have their own press. They cannot make use of the services of radio and television. They do not even have the simplest textbooks on religious truths. 'Every citizen can purchase prayer books, the Bible, and other religious literature,’ writes J. Rimaitis further (p. 24). But in fact, the Bible has never been published, just as the religious books needed by the average believer have not been published; the prayer books which were published in very small editions long ago have been unavailable for a long time now, yet we need more than half a million of them.
"The Soviet press claims that the canonical activity of the Church here is unrestricted, and yet Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius and Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius have not been allowed to perform the duties pertinent to their position for more than ten years now. Priests who have served their sentences (even those whose convictions have been overturned) must sometimes wait a number of years before the commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs deigns to permit them to carry out their priestly functions.
"Lenin’s decree issued on January 23, 19x8, allows children to be instructed privately in religious matters. In the press, the priests and the parents are given to understand that Lenin’s decree is in force even now, yet more than one priest and layman (Father A. Šeškevičius, Father Juozas Zdebskis, Father Prosperas Bubnys, [Miss] Ona Paškevičiūtė) have been sentenced to forced labor solely for the performance of canonical duties—the preparation of children for their First Communion inside a church.
"According to the international agreement signed by the USSR on November 15, 1961, parents must be guaranteed the feasibility of raising their children religiously and morally in accordance with their convictions; nevertheless, government organs in our country sometimes forbid children (boys as well as girls) to take even passive part in the services, even though their parents demand or desire this. In our country’s schools, the children are sometimes forced to fill out various questionnaires which are contradictory to the freedom of conscience or to publicly declare their religious convictions; the activities of the Catholic Church are being explained to them in a distorted way; antichurch literature is being foisted upon them; they are being mocked and even punished for attending church; through moral compulsion they are enrolled in antireligious groups.
"Adult believers often suffer for their religious convictions, too; they are not permitted to hold responsible positions. Those who are suspected of being believers are threatened with dismissal and are even dismissed from work under cover of various other reasons. For example, [Mrs.] O. Brilienè, a teacher at the secondary school in Vilkaviškis, was not allowed to work even as a cleaning lady in that city even after the Supreme Court of the LSSR handed down the verdict that she must be reinstated (because she had been dismissed from work solely for church attendance). In general, the practices of the People’s Courts in deciding the cases of believers are often shocking: the courts (and similar agencies) often base their decision on some sort of secret instructions (which are unknown even to Soviet jurists), for whose nonobservance they hand down sentences (for example, the cases of Father Šeškevičius in Molėtai, of Father Zdebskis in Kaunas, of Father Keina in Varėna). In Soviet courts children are being questioned, are being forced to act as witnesses even against their will and that of their parents; and sometimes they are even being forced to commit perjury (viz., at the People’s Court of Varėna on December 7, 1971, in the case of Father Keina).
"We therefore ask you:
1. To permit the theological seminary in Kaunas to function freely and to accept all candidates which are suitable to the Church.
2. To put into practice the freedom of a religious press guaranteed by the USSR Constitution, i.e., to permit the publishing of prayer books, catechisms, hymnals, the Bible, and other religious books, which the people lack and which they demand.
3. To permit bishops Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius to perform their duties as bishops and to permit all priests living in our country (among them also the Ukrainians) to freely and openly perform their priestly functions.
4. To repeal the explanatory text of Article 143 of the LSSR Criminal Code—'The organization of religious instruction activities for minors in violation of regulations established by law’—which is not in accord with the international agreement of November 15, 1961, or with the constitution of the Soviet Union, and which is being abused by our country’s People’s Courts.
5. To abolish all of the secret instructions which are unknown to us and which concern our religious life.
6. To review the cases of individuals convicted because of their faith and to acquit them.
"We request that the matters set forth in this petition be decided in Moscow because previous petitions from the believers, which were forwarded from Moscow to Vilnius, were not examined objectively but only brought new unpleasantness for the believers.
“These complaints of ours are based on numerous grievances, more of which could be presented if necessary.
December 24, 1971
[Signatures]: Rev. R. Blažys, Rev. B. Budreckis, Rev. A. Merkys, Rev. D. Valiukonis, Rev. C. Taraškevičius, Rev. A. Ulickas, Rev. J. Kardelis, Rev. J. Jakutis, Rev. J. Grigaitis, Rev. K. Žemėnas, Rev. A. Čiūras, Rev. K. Garuckas, Rev. V. Miškinis, Rev. A. Petronis, Rev. A. Simonaitis,
Rev. B. Laurinavičius, Rev. M. Žemaitis, Rev. J. Kukta, Rev. K. Vaičionis, Rev. J. Baltušis, Rev. B. Jaura, Rev. K. Pukėnas, Rev. J. Vaitonis, Rev. A. Dzekan, Rev. D. Akstinas, Rev. L. Ivančyk, Rev. I. Karukievič, Rev. P. Jankus, Rev. A. Lakovič, Rev. K. Molis, Rev. P. Valičko, Rev. S. Valiukėnas, Rev. V. Merkys, Rev. P. Daunoras, Rev. V. Černiauskas, Rev. A. Tamulaitis, Rev. V. Zavadzkis, Rev. A. Keina, Rev. A. Jašmantas, Rev. N. Jaura, Rev. J. Budrevičius, Rev. S. Tunaitis, Rev. M. Petravičius, Rev. N. Pakalka, Rev. K. Vasiliauskas, Rev. J. Lauriūnas, Rev. A. Andriuškevičius.
"Please send your reply to the following addresses:
1. The Rev. B. Laurinavičius, Adutiškis Post Office, Švenčionys Rayon,the LSSR
2. The Rev. K. Pukėnas, Nemenčinė Post Office, Vilnius Rayon,the LSSR
3. The Rev. R. Blažys, Tilžė Post Office, Zarasai Rayon,the LSSR"
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The commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs regards the priests’ efforts to attain greater freedom of conscience and religion as impudence.