Interview with Kaunas Seminary Rector Viktoras Rutkus granted in the Moscow French-language weekly Les Nouvelles de Moscou (7131176, No. 31) and the English-language Moscow News (6/12176).
The Roman Catholic Church in the Soviet Union
In the Soviet Union, there are Roman Catholic religious communities which function freely, as do other religious communities. The legal status of the Roman Catholic Church is no different from that of the Protestants, Orthodox, Moslems, Buddhists, Lutherans and others. Ten out of fifteen Soviet Union republics have Catholic communities. The largest numbers of Roman Catholic Church believers live in Lithuania, Latvia, Western Ukraine and the Belorussian Republic.
Here is an interview which Viktoras Butkus, Doctor of Theology and Hector of the Kaunas Roman Catholic Seminary, was kind enough to grant us:
Hostile propaganda abroad is spreading all kinds of fabrications about the situation of the Church in Soviet Lithuania. Would you kindly tell us what the situation really is?
The inhabitants of Lithuania, as throughout the Soviet Union, enjoy freedom of conscience, which is granted them by the Constitution (art. 96). Every citizen can freely attend church or pray at home, decorate his home with crosses and other religious pictures; purchase prayerbooks, Bibles and other religious works. Soviet laws guarantee believers respect of all their rights.
Has the number of parishes and dioceses, Catholic churches and priests declined in Lithuania under the Soviet government?
The number of parishes and dioceses remains the same. And as for Catholic priests, today there are slightly fewer of them, especially since a certain number of ministers of cult left Lithuania during the war.
The Catholic Church in Lithuania has the right to form its own administration. The present-day Lithuanian Archdioceses of Vilnius and Kaunas, and the Dioceses of Kaišiadorys, Panevėžys, Telšiai and Vilkaviškis were founded under the bourgeois government. The Soviet Lithuanian government does not hinder the administrators of these dioceses in the performance of their duties in the dioceses, as throughout the republic. They have the right to meet and decide church matters. Thus, in compliance with the regulations of the Second Vatican Council, the diocesan Ordinaries met in Telšiai to form a Council of Ordinaries whose president today is Juozapas Labukas, the Apostolic Administrator of the Kaunas Archdiocese and the Vilkaviškis Diocese. The Council has issued several letters for the priests and believers of Lithuania and other documents.
After the Second Vatican Council, the Liturgical Commissior, issued a Latin-Lithuanian Ritual Book for priests and organists, which the appropriate Vatican congregation had decreed obligatory for the Catholic Church in Lithuania and abroad. In 1968 a complete translation of the Decrees of the Second Vatican Council was published in Lithuania. That same year, Missals, and later a Psalm Book and the New Testament were published.
How were war-scarred churches rebuilt and repaired?
World War II turned cities and villages into ruins: Entire towns were wiped out. The war did not spare churches. Among the churches destroyed we can list the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Šiauliai, the churches of Raseiniai, Kudirkos Naumiestis, Kuršėnai and others: perhaps forty in all. Although the war-shattered socialist economy was in great need of building material, the leaders of the republic still felt it was possible to allot some to rebuild churches.
In this manner, in the Telšiai Diocese alone, the churches of Kretinga, Tauragė, Kuršėnai, Papilė, Kruopiai, Kvėdarna, Leskava and Mažeikiai were rebuilt. In five towns of the diocese, churches destroyed by fire were replaced with chapels. Churches are maintained very scrupulously; they are rebuilt and restored. In the entire ddiocese, as throughout the republic, you will not find a single neglected church.
Can the Catholic Church in Lithuania train priests?
There is a Seminary in Kaunas to train priests. Its administration and professors are appointed by the country's Ordinaries. This is a tuition-free, five-year institution.
The curriculum conforms with the regulations set by the Vatican Congregation of Dogma. As it stands today, it is practically no different from the curricula of Catholic universities in Rome."
Can the Catholic Church in Lithuania maintain contact with persons of the same religion abroad?
Our Catholic Church representatives maintain contact with the Vatican and with Catholic churches abroad. They participated actively in the work of the Second Vatican Council, later attended and continue to attend the Synods of Bishops called by Pope Paul VI; they regularly participate in the Vatican Commission on Canon Law and the European Catholic Conference; they travel as pilgrims and visit the Catholic churches of various countries. Moreover, the Catholics of Lithuania maintain contact with their brothers in the Faith living abroad, inviting them to visit the Soviet Union.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that everything discussed here shatters the fabrications of the reactionary press abroad, which pictures the situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and other Soviet republics in the wrong light.
As you can see, the situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and other Soviet republics in completely different from that portrayed in some Western press.