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.
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Before the trial had begun, Father Bubnys wrote his statement of defense, which is presented below:
"Honorable members of the Court,
"I have the important duty as a citizen to state my views concerning an important existential question: am I guilty for teaching religion? The question arises whether the profession of religion (profession not to trees or stones but in the presence of other people) and its propagation thereby is an intrinsically evil and forbidden act? If it is permissible, then do I have the right and the duty to do this?
"The community of the United Nations and our country’s constitution have transcended the medieval principle that whoever rules determines the people’s religion by recognizing freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
By acknowledging that religious instruction is an offense, I would be sinning against the concept of man and the spiritual progress which mankind has achieved through agelong efforts. I respect the right of parents to decide for themselves whether their children must be religious or not. They themselves brought their children to have their religious knowledge examined. No one was assigned a certain day for bringing his children. In order to save the working people’s time, we accomodated ourselves to the timetable of the sole bus which services Girkalnis. I did not try to deliberately disregard the officials and their demands.
“Besides my obligations to the state, I, as a priest and pastor, have obligations to my religion and to the Church which are binding upon my conscience.
"A priest’s essential duty, which Christ himself has conferred, is to preach the Gospel, to teach the nations, and to dispense God’s grace by administering the sacraments. Since the Soviet government still has not ordered the seminary in which religious matters are studied and learned to be closed, then it agrees that the knowledge obtained there should be used in the teaching of religion. When he is ordained, every priest becomes obligated to God, and by means of the appointment he is given by the bishop, he receives the command, which is governed by Church regulations, to teach and bless the Nation of God. Therefore, if he is to act conscientiously, he cannot avoid propagating and teaching religion, for as the Apostle St. Paul has said: 'Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Cor. 9:16). The parents also have the right to teach religion to their children. If they are supporting a priest at their expense, then does that priest have the right to refuse to serve the parents in these matters? How absurd it would seem to have the right and the means, and yet to forbid use to be made of them? This would be like allowing a man to hold a hammer in his hand but forcing him to drive nails with his fist. Such a requirement is not in accord with the workings of a sound mind, and thus it is not surprising that, to a majority of the people, it is entirely incomprehensible.
"If every decent person should not be indifferent to matters of truth and morals, then all the more so must a priest not remain silent, for through Christ he has been allowed to know divine truth. For no other name has been given to us under heaven through which we can be saved except the name of Jesus (cf., Acts 4:12). Christ’s teaching is the foundation of mankind’s culture and goodness. As a rational being is on a higher level than an irrational one, so culture of the spirit is of a higher value than material culture. The laws of men are altered by time and place, and they become contradictory to the previous ones. The laws of Christ are based on the very nature of man and will not cease to exist as long as man exists. The story of Christ did not end with His death upon the cross. He is eternal. This very day testifies to that. He comes as He has promised, without delay, with great power and majesty, as the One to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given. To Him belong both all the believers and all the atheists, no mater how many of them there are. His winnow is in His hand, and He will separate the chaff from the grain.
"In view of this, my conscience causes me to feel somewhat apprehensive, not about my 'crime’ for having taught the tenets of the faith to the children, but about my negligence in carrying out such important duties because, as calculated by my accusers, the total amount of time devoted to examining each child’s knowledge of the most essential matters (for First Communion) did not even amount to ten minutes. Thus, can one speak of it as teaching?
"My sole justification is that there was not enough time available before the coming of the bishop to Raseiniai. I can attribute to myself neither merit before God nor guilt before the laws.
"If I must publicly state today whether I did teach religion, then I cannot deny this, nor do I regret it, because that would indicate a distorted conscience and the disregard of what is due the Creator in favor of the laws of men. If the laws of men are not in harmony with the Creator’s Natural Law, then it is not nature which errs, but man’s understanding; and because of this, human beings are suffering and will continue to suffer until they perceive where they erred in deviating from the Creator’s plan.
"At this solemn hour which has been allotted to me, a speck of dust, I cannot renounce Jesus, who loves us and who urges that the little ones would not be kept from coming to Him. I want to say: 'Praised be Jesus Christ!’”
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A month after his conviction, on December 9, 1971, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the People’s Court of Raseiniai.
The believers of Girkalnis and of the neighboring parishes, who were greatly distressed because of the injustice inflicted upon their priest and disillusioned with the local authorities, sent a petition to the President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and to the Procurator General of the USSR:
"On November 12, 1971, in Raseiniai (die LSSR), the Rev. Prosperas Bubnys, who resides in the parish of Girkalnis, Raseiniai Rayon,was sentenced to one year in prison. On December 9, the Supreme Court of the LSSR upheld that decision.
"The priest’s ’guilt’ consisted in the conscientious carrying out of his duties by helping parents prepare their children for First Communion and confirmation.
"We do not want to believe that this was not a mistake. After all, our constitution guarantees freedom of religion and of conscience, and Lenin has decreed the following concerning the separation of the Church from the state: 'Citizens have the right to study religion on their own initiative.’ Our pastor taught on his own initiative; he did not go into a school to teach the children. Just the opposite occurred: representatives of the Raseiniai Rayon
Executive Committee, together with several teachers that they had invited, practically broke into the church, and, finding the children waiting for the pastor (to test their knowledge of the faith), created a disturbance. The representatives rounded up the frightened children and dragged them through the village to the fire station; there they were closeted and forced through intimidation to write statements accusing the pastor. (Some of the children even became ill from the terrorization.) The intimidated, frightened, and crying children wrote the statements without making any distinction between the words 'to teach’ and 'to examine.’ This was taken advantage of by the enemies of the freedom of conscience in order that they could accuse the priest of the systematic instruction of children. Then again, if the priest did teach the children not to steal and not to be naughty but to respect their parents and to love their neighbor—is that a crime? From our experience of life we can clearly see that children nurtured in the Faith grow up to be better people, people without bad habits. We naturally want to raise our children to be like that, but we have no textbooks from which we could teach the tenets of the faith to our children. (For during the years of socialism in Lithuania, neither catechisms nor other religious textbooks have ever been published.) We are left with only one solution: to ask the pastor to help us. Unfortunately, for this religious ministration, our pastor has been sentenced to prison.
''The self-will of the atheists and of the authorities greatly insults and demeans us believers, because the existing inequality between believers and nonbelievers is being forcibly manifested. Only atheists have been granted the possibility of raising their children without constraint, that is, atheistically; but the believers have had all their rights and all the possibilities of raising their children according to their convictions taken away. Furthermore the atheists have been given the right to concern themselves with our children’s upbringing more than the parents themselves. They attempt to force somebody else’s children to become atheists, they chase them out of churches, they try to frighten them, they do not let them receive First Communion. As for the priest, who 'on his own initiative’ taught the children, when asked by the parents, on matters of faith and morals—they are punishing him with imprisonment.
"We ask you not to permit such arbitrariness by which the rights of us parents over our children are being violated. We ask for freedom of conscience and for equal rights, as Lenin has promised and as the Soviet Constitution proclaims.
"We ask that catechisms be published, so that we would have the means for instructing our children.
"We ask that priests be permitted to teach children the tenets of the faith in church—in keeping with Lenin’s decree.
"We also ask your help so that the Rev. P. Bubnys would be released from prison.
"P.S. A total of 1,344 believers from Raseiniai Rayon have signed this petition, 570 of whom are from the parish in Girkalnis. Forty-three pages of signatures are being attached to this petition.
“We await a reply at this address:
The LSSR, Raseiniai Rayon Girkalnis,
[Miss] Lukinskaitè, Blasé,
[Miss] Kazimierskyté, Anele
December 11, 1971”
Although the people of Girkalnis requested that their rights be upheld and that Father Bubnys be released from prison, the voice of the people remained unheard by the Soviet government.
Meanwhile, Father Bubnys is serving his sentence at the Kapsukas strict-regime prison camp, and he does not complain about his lot. On the occasion of Christmas he wrote: "When I was faced with the prospect of imprisonment, I found myself partly longing for it and rejoicing at this opportunity to detach myself from the world, to sink into oblivion, and to consciously take upon myself the spirit of penance and self-sacrifice..