In 1948, the Soviet government compelled parishes to elect "Committees of twenty" (parish committees), executive committees and enter into unilateral agreements with district and city executive committees.
A campaign began in 1975 to renew these agreements and has continued until now. Last year, agreements were again renewed— even those which were drawn up in 1975. We are quoting from an order issued by Religious Affairs Commissioner K.(azimieras) Tumėnas to Vice-Chairman Urbonas of the Vilkaviškis Rayon Executive Committee:
"Since the agreements of religious communities in your Rayon with the Peoples' Council of Deputies Executive Committee are out date, we ask you to renew them. We remind you that agreements are drawn up in three copies: One copy is sent to the commissioner's office, the second is for the religious community and the third for the Rayon Executive Committee. Please renew the agreements by December 15, 1977.
Commissioner K. Tumėnas."
How was this new agreement drawn up? Let us take the Vilkaviškis Rayon as an example. When he received Commissioner Tumėnas' order, Vice-Chairman Urbonas took the old agreement forms, crossed out the words:" . . .if under established procedure, it is decided to close the house of prayer (cult building), whose use was permitted by this agreement", and wrote in, as ordered " . . .if under established procedure, the community loses its accreditation . . ."
These forms lay in the drawers of district and city Executive Committees for several months, and in October the order was carried out. In essence, this agreement campaign differed from earlier campaigns. Earlier, the Executive Committee used to give the agreement forms to the pastor, but this time an effort was made to circumvent the pastors.
We quote from the statement written Religious Affairs Commissioner Tumėnas by the Didvyžiai parish committee:
"In 1975 the Didvyžiai religious community renewed its agreement with the Augalai District Executive Committee.
"At the end of October 1977, Klausučiai District Executive Committee Chairman Stasys Kundrotas assigned a rank-and-file member of the Didvyžiai religious community, Albinas Radzevičius, to draw up the new agreement. Because members of the community had heard from the neighboring Alksėnai parish that the church would be closed if the agreement were not renewed, we signed the new agreement.
"After calm deliberation, we, the members of the Didvydžiai religious community, are declaring that we are withdrawing from the new agreement drawn up this year . . ."
In Bartininkai, Gražiškiai and other parishes, the District Executive Committees collected the signatures of parish members on the new agreement without the knowledge of the pastors.
In the Vištytis parish, the District Executive Committee personally appointed a new parish committee. The real parish committee members write as follows:
"To: Religious Affairs Commissioner K. Tumėnas
"A Statement from: The Vištytis Catholic Parish Committee
"We, the parish committee of the Vištytis religious community, are extremely astonished and outraged at being removed from our duties without cause, despite the fact that we did not request it.
"Upon receiving the order from the Rayon, Vištytis District representatives called on the assistance of the state farm office and other employees, assembled random individuals at their own discretion and formed a new parish committee; they obtained their signatures on the new agreement by lies and threats.
"Some of the individuals thus assembled are not practicing
Catholics nor even exemplary persons. We protest this gross interference by local authorities in our parish's internal affairs. We ask you to investigate this incident and direct government officials to cease violating the law here and allow us to perform our duties.
After this complaint was sent to Tumėnas, Executive Committee Vice-Chairman J. Urbonas came to Vištytis, assembled those who had signed the complaint and even individuals who had not, and tried to persuade them with threats and blackmail that they had slandered good persons. The confused and frightened people did not think quickly enough to remind the Rayon official that the District does not have the right to form parish committees.
Events at Vištytis are a reminder to all Lithuanian priests to be on the alert against it becoming customary for the government to attempt to form parish committees and executive bodies at their own discretion.
At the Pajavonys parish, a very zealous District chairwoman overextended herself by including her own hand-picked individuals in the parish committee, and was later forced to withdraw them.
At the Kybartai parish, Parish Committee members were summoned without the pastor's knowledge to the City Executive committee and visiting Vice-Chairman Urbonas ordered them to sign the new agreement. When the Kybartai residents refused to comply, Urbonas stated that he would remove the Kybartai Parish Executive Committee chairman from his position and ordered them to sign the agreement by November 1st, otherwise the church would be closed.
On October 31st, several members of the Kybartai Parish Committee took the following statement to Tumėnas in Vilnius:
"On October 28th of this year, the Kybartai City Executive Committee summoned us, the members of the Kybartai Religious Community, to its office, where Vice-Chairman Urbonas, who had arrived from the Rayon, ordered us to sign an agreement similar to the one we signed in 1975. The difference is as follows: In the current agreement the following sentence is crossed out in black ink: 'This agreement can be terminated if, under established procedure, it is decided to close the house of prayer (cult building), whose use was permitted by this agreement.' The following sentence has been typed in its place: This agreement can be terminated it, under established procedure, the community loses its accreditation.'
"We all declined to sign such an amended agreement, since in all of Lithuania not a single Rayon, except the Vilkaviškis Rayon, requires such an agreement to be signed. As Catholics, we will never consent to have our religious community lose its accreditation. We have also heard that you, Mr. Commissioner, do not require such an agreement.
"When we refused to sign this agreement, Vice-Chairman Urbonas stated that he would remove our community chairman, Vitas Paulauskas, from his position because he refused to enter into the new Agreement. Urbonas suggested that we elect a new chairman right there at the Executive Committee office. This of course, we did not do. We were ordered to sign the new agreement by November 1st; otherwise the law will be enforced; that is, our religious community will lose its accreditation.
"When our former community chairman resigned from his post, we elected V. Paulauskas in his stead on September 4, 1977 and informed the Vilkaviškis RayonExecutive Committee, which allowed him to hold the post until October 28, 1977. We hold that the removal of our chairman is unjustified because he has not violated any Soviet laws. If our chairman had wanted to enter into the new agreement against our will, we would still have refused to sign it. Until the Rayon Executive Committee presents us with a document stating the reasons for the removal of our chairman, we will not elect a new one, since we already have one.
"Our religious community was registered in 1948 and has continually made proper use of the property assigned to it and paid taxes on the church, the land and the like. Our community entered into an agreement with the City Executive Committee in 1975 and the term of this agreement has not yet expired; we therefore see no reason to enter into a new agreement, and we consider the threats of the Rayon Executive Committee Vice-Chairman to be in violation of the new USSR Constitution.
"We therefore ask you, Comrade Commissioner, to help us by seeing that people are not provoked, work is not disrupted and we are not persecuted. We are certain that we will not have to seek other recourse in defending our rights.
"Members of the Kybartai Religious Community"
The Religious Affairs Commissioner told the people of Kybartai who had come to see him that no one will close their church and that new agreements are not necessary. What hypocrisy! The Commissioner personally issues the order, but when people protest its implementation, then some lower government official is given the blame, for instance, Rayon Vice-Chairman Urbonas.
In the Virbalis parish, the District chairman personally tried to get the signatures of Parish Committee members on the new agreement, but succeeded in deceiving only several members. Later, those who had been deceived put so much pressure on the chairman that he asked the pastor to calm the people as it might end badly for him (the chairman).
The new agreement campaign was halted in the Vilkaviškis Rayon at the beginning of November.
In some other Rayons, for example, in the Molėtai Rayon, an attempt was also made to enter into newly-amended agreements.
Why did the Soviet government feel the need for new agreements? Perhaps it wants to accustom religious communities to renew agreements frequently, in order that the Soviet government might each time have the opportunity to make corrections and additions advantageous to itself. Perhaps this was an experiment to see how many parish committees and executive bodies are "receptive"' to acting without the pastor's knowledge. If so, the government had occasion to be convinced that it will find few believers in Lithuania who will sign questionable agreements without first consulting with their pastor.
At present, the government's attempts are becoming apparent, to circumvent the pastor in parish matters, to convince parish executive bodies that they are in charge, to accustom them to act without consulting with and giving an accounting to the parish pastor, and slowly to introduce "Soviet Catholics" into parish executive bodies who would blindly carry out all government demands. It would appear that it will take many years for these government goals to be reached, if they ever are reached in Lithuania. This will depend, above all, on the awareness of priests.