The election of John Paul II as Supreme Shepherd of the Church is an especially historical event which not only has great significance in the life of the Catholic Church in general, but is especially important to the Catholics of Eastern Europe as well.
For the first time in the history of the Church we see a representative of Eastern Europe in the Apostolic See. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II is one who personally experienced the horrors of World War II, and saw the terrible sufferings and death of many innocent people. He himself had to experience the worker's hard lot, and to study for the priesthood underground.
He has had the opportunity to be acquainted not only with the western world but also to become well acquainted with the deceitful and tireless Marxist-atheist war developed by Moscow against the work of the Church.
. . . This is a great encouragement not only to the Polish nation, but also and especially to Lithuania, Ukraine, Belorussia, and to all Catholics and Christians in the Soviet Union. The new pope was received with enthusiasm also by those struggling for human rights in the Soviet Union. We all expect to receive strong support from the new pope. Hence hope has returned that in the future we shall not feel abondoned to the will of the atheists in the Kremlin.
Our hopes have been justified from the start. In his very first address, the new pope recalled those imprisoned for the Faith. We have been moved by the Holy Father's statement that half his heart belongs to Lithuania, and that he thinks of us all the time. All Lithuanians felt themselves to be especially honored by the Holy Father, when during the inauguration ceremonies he spoke in Lithuanian and received our bishops in exceptional fashion, telling them that he is well acquainted with the affairs of the faithful in Lithuania. The faithful of Lithuania are full of hope that the new Holy Father will strongly support our battle for complete freedom of the Catholic Church and for human rights in the Soviet Union.
. . . We are and will remain obedient and disciplined children of the Church, completely dedicated to the Apostolic See; however, we feel the vital need to express frankly to the Apostolic See our thoughts on all questions regarding the critical situation of our faithful. On the right answers to these questions will depend the future of the Church in the Soviet Union and in our country. We hope we are understood and receive help at this difficult time.
The ecclesiastical province of Lithuania is the outpost of Catholicism in the Soviet Union, overrun by total atheism. In our current life-or-death struggle we need quick and effective help in order not to be completely destroyed morally and physically. We therefore consider it necessary to acquaint the Apostolic See and our brethren, the faithful of the world, with the present situation of the Catholics in Lithuania.
When the Red Army occupied Lithuania, the physical and moral destruction of the Lithuanian nation began. About one-third of the Lithuanian nation were the direct victims. Some were exiled, others were imprisoned, killed, etc. This terror continued right up to the end of the reign of Stalin.
After the death of Stalin, the overt physical extermination of Catholics was changed to a systematic destruction of the nation through the schools, atheistic propaganda, and administrative measures. This has continued to the present day. Diocesan chanceries are forced to become the indirect helpers of the atheists in the destruction of the Church. They have sent out letters forbidding the catechizing of children, the official annual visitation of parishioners by the priest, and the participation of children in serving at Mass.
Especially difficult for Lithuania were the years between 1946 and 1950. The policy of appeasing the government reigned especially during the days of Monsignor Juozas Stankevičius as administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and the Dioceses of Vilkaviškis and of Kaišiadoriai.
During the past decade, the persecution abated somewhat, but when the atheistic government became convinced that the Faith was reviving in Lithuania, the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R. confirmed on July 28, 1976 the regulations concerning religious groups, in complete disregard of the dogmas, morals, and canon law of the Catholic Church, and obliged clergy and faithful to carry them out against the dictates of their own consciences, and in contradiction to the Universal declaration of Human Rights and the principles of the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference.
The Catholic church of Lithuania once again faces difficult days. Only an energetic struggle by priests and faithful will help defend the freedom of religion.
Regardless of long persecution by the atheists, religion in Lithuania is still alive. The former Commissioner for Cult, J(uozas) Rugienis himself stated, "We plugged all the openings, so that the faith in Lithuania would suffocate, but we felt some kind of current of underground religious life, which we are unable to control."
Since the activity of bishops and administrators of dioceses has been paralyzed, the religious life of Lithuania is basically sustained by parishes led by courageous priests. Especially bold and zealous are the priests in small parishes. They are not afraid of transfers, of fines, nor of jails. It is difficult for the government to repress the priests and people, since persecution enkindles the spirit of the believers; then petitions and complaints are drafted, which often reach the press abroad. In event of a trial, documents remain which are most unpleasant to those responsible for the indictment.
In Lithuania especially is the adage true: Quails pastor talis grex, "A parish is as good as its pastor." When the atheists notice a religious revival in any parish, they try in some way to transfer the zealous priest out of there. Often they force the Ordinary to do so. Priests oppressed by the atheists often question the bishop why they are punished by a transfer, and they refuse to accept the bishop's appointment. Bishop Juozas Labukas has even obtained from the Holy See a dispensation enabling him to transfer priests without keeping to Canon Law.
Thanks to bold resistance on the part of priests, the enemies of the Faith have not attained the results desired by them. The chancery of the Diocese of Vilkaviškis and government officials had a lot of trouble forcing Father Longinas Kunevičius to leave the Parish of Didvyžiai. Even when he was drafted into the army, he used to show up in uniform on Sundays at his parish to celebrate Holy Mass.
Earlier, the Soviet government tried to take away from the younger priests the right to perform their priestly duties in public. For example, in 1969 Father Sigitas Tamkevičius and Father Juozas Zdebskis were forced to dig ditches. After work, they used to conduct retreats, offer Mass and the like, in catacomb fashion. The atheists, fearing lest their catacomb apostolate spread, soon ordered them to be put to work in parishes. Similarly, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas was assigned to a parish so that he might not influence students in Vilnius.
Despite the persecution of religion until now in many cases Christian families have preserved the Faith. In Lithuania many families of the older generation are deeply religious. The atheists have almost no hope of wrecking their faith. Younger families, however, grown up in the Soviet system, even though inheriting the faith and traditions of their nation, nevertheless have a weaker grasp of their religion, and it is much more difficult for them to rear their children.
Even though the Soviet Constitution guarantees citizens freedom of the press, and religious or ethnic discrimination against citizens is forbidden, nevertheless Lithuania is experiencing a harsher publishing ban than during the czarist era, when they allowed the publishing of books only in the Russian alphabet. Freedom of the press is allowed only to spread the atheistic ideology, while the propagation of any other ideology is forbidden. In thirty-eight years, the Lithuanians have not had the right to publish any books with a religious content, except for the New Testament, the Psalter and the Documents of Vatican II.
In Lithuania, a modest underground press supports the Faith. Books most often have to be copied by hand or by typewriter.
The following underground periodicals of a religious nature are being published in Lithuania: The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania (Lietuvos Katalikų Bažnyčios Kronika), God and Country (Dievas ir Tėvynė), The Worrier (Rūpintojėlis), The Way of Truth (Tiesos Kelias), (for priests) .. . Even patriotic underground newspapers: The Dawn (Aušra), The Liberty Herald (Laisvės Šauklys) and Perspectives (Perspektyvos) regard the Catholic Church favorably, since they understand well that as long as the Catholic Faith is alive, Lithuania will not be Russified.
The underground periodicals go from hand to hand, like the greatest treasures. Once again, book smugglers have appeared, new trials are scheduled, and jail sentences await those involved in the Catholic or nationalist press. It is difficult at present to evaluate their significance. However, it is clear that the nation has felt herself alive; under the influence of these publications, new religious and national movements are springing up.
The significance of the underground publications would be small if they were not publicized by the broadcasts of Vatican Radio and Radio Liberty, and if they were not distributed and reproduced abroad. The broadcasts of these stations and the reactions of Lithuanians abroad and of the foreign press inhibit the excesses of local atheists. Many active atheists do not want world notoriety, and fear to have their names mentioned in various languages, inscribed in documents as oppressors of their own nation, who have sold out to foreigners in the darkest days of its history. Perhaps their is the additional concern: Will they not one day have to answer for their crimes? It is unpleasant to receive letters from abroad inquiring about reports of persecution, or to hear criticism of their traitorous deeds.
Even though a great part of the Lithuanian intelligentsia has become indifferent and ignorant of their faith, still just a little more religious information and freedom is needed for at least half of them to become believers in short order. For many of them, just seeing the television broadcast of the inauguration of Pope John Paul II constituted a wonderfully moving experience.
The broadcasts of Vatican Radio are widely listened to by believers and non-believers. Lithuanians in the fatherland learn from them about current events, which are impossible to learn about otherwise. Hence the popularity of Vatican Radio broadcasts is growing yearly. The atheists of Lithuania tried to have the Vatican Radio limit itself to explanation of the catechism. We are very grateful that dishonorable concessions were not made.
Radio Liberty broadcasts are especially jammed, but when it is possible to hear them, they are always listened to with great interest.
The Catholic Church has come to understand what a powerful resource today's mass media constitute. They can be used not only to spread the faith, but also to defend it. Of unusual importance in defending the persecuted Church is the multi-lingual dissemination of facts and documents concerning persecution, whose credibility is beyond question.
For this we are grateful to the journalists of various countries, writers, newspaper and radio editors, bishops, priests and faithful of various lands, who have shown a fraternal concern for their persecuted brethren, as well as those who try, by their letters, protests and demonstrations to stop the persecution. This greatly inhibits the excesses of the atheists of the Soviet Union. They wish to appear to the world as champions of liberty and progressive democratic people, but the truth concerning the persecution of religion undoes their propaganda and Soviet Communism shows itself as an even more terrible copy of fascism.
Recently, Russian Orthodox and Lithuanian Roman Catholic Committees for the Defense of the Rights of Believers have been formed. Their task is to proclaim publicly the facts regarding the persecution of believers. We are waiting for Lithuanians abroad and for the faithful of the entire world to support by all means at their disposal the activities of these committees and to react to the facts they report, with the most effective means at their disposal. We are grateful especially for the work of the Lithuanians in the U.S.A. They would perform a great mission if they could organize a world-wide association of believers in defense of persecuted believers, including with the Catholic Church the principal world denominations. A unified campaign would bring good results. There are various ways to inhibit the persecutors: Boycott their products, protests, diplomatic efforts, religious services, processions, days of fasting, etc.
The work of the Church operating openly in Lithuania is supplemented by priests and laity working in catacomb fashion. They are especially persecuted. Some of the faithful do not dare to go to church on Sundays publicly or to receive the sacraments. It is difficult for them to deepen their knowledge of the Faith, or to prepare children for confession and First Communion. These people are assisted by representatives of the Church operating in catacomb fashion.
There are not two Catholic Churches in Lithuania, nor is it possible to split up. The catacomb activity of the Church is still not very widespread, because it is too little appreciated or supported by Church leaders; too little attention still is paid to its wishes. Its work is difficult, but essential. The atheists are worried by this work whose fruits offer great hopes for the future, because it is impossible to control. The government is trying hard to destroy the catacomb activity of the Church at the hands of the Bishops and even of the Vatican. Some bishops of Lithuania have tried to obtain the agreement of the Holy Father that no work be done without the permission of publicly functioning bishops, supported by the atheistic government. Thank God, the Apostolic See saw through this ruse.
Most persecuted are the secret disseminators of underground Catholic publications. The following zealous believers were killed under suspicious circumstances: In Kaunas, Paltanavičius, in Panevėžys, Kriaučiūnas (thrown into a well). Others were crowded into labor camps: Nijolė Sadūnaitė, Petras Plumpa, Vladas Lapienis and others.
The atheists are using every possible means to make the Lithuanian nation atheistic: propaganda by radio, the press, television, atheistic education of the youth from their earliest days: beginning in kindergarte, continuing in school, university and army; recruiting them by force for their organizations. Nevertheless, even today crowds of people take part in parish devotions, especially at Christmas and Easter
Religious celebrations at Šiluva, Žemaičių Kalvarija (the Calvary of the Samogitians), and Aušros Vartai (the Gates of Dawn) have become very popular. The atheists have tried in every way to interfere with the celebrations of these religious devotions: They would organize festivals; the Motor Vehicles Department would not allow the use of government automobiles, etc.; all, however, in vain.
Very many children in Lithuania are baptized: about 90% in the villages and somewhat less in the large cities.
The great majority of the faithful bury their dead with religious services.
No small part of the youth is married in church. Even Party members go to the priest in these matters, in remote village churches at midnight or in private quarters.
Parents and priests prepare the majority of the children (about 70%) in catacomb fashion for first confession and Communion.
There is no small number of dedicated priests, unafraid even of imprisonment or death, who encourage the faithful and zealously defend their rights.
The atheists avoid shedding martyr's blood: For the present, they want the Church to smother quietly, without crying out, without tears, deprived of new means of life, broken and demoralized. It is therefore our duty to struggle so that those things causing the decline of the life of the Church be destroyed, and that the necessary assistance be given to the Church militant without delay.
The majority of those who are officially carrying out the duties of Ordinaries in Lithuania are not defending the faith in Lithuania. Pastoral work, in many cases is badly neglected. The basic responsibility for this falls to the president of the college of Lithuanian bishops, His Excellency Juozapas Labukas.
We understand well how unusually difficult are the duties of Ordinaries in our situation. Their fulfillment requires unusually alert and deep faith, great wisdom, spiritual strength, unafraid of ridicule, persecution, imprisonment or even death.
The Ordinaries of Lithuania find themselves between two contradictory poles: The rank-and-file clergy and faithful want the ordinaries to be ideal successors of the apostles, but the officials of the atheistic government demand that the Ordinaries deceive the Apostolic See, pressure zealous priests, ignore pastoral ministry, openly support the plans of the atheists; i.e., that they be not routine but special collaborators with the government. Recently, the Soviet Lithuanian Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Petras Anilionis, dictated to the Ordinaries of Lithuania how they must carry out the July 8, 1976 directives of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R., urging them not to be afraid if they are called "red."
The faithful would like to see on the bishops' throne such men as the Servant of God, Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, Archbishops Teofilius Matulionis, and Mečislovas Reinys; government representatives would like to promote as bishops such appeasers as Msgr. Petras Žilinskis in Czarist times, and in our days Msgr. Česlovas Krivaitis, Msgr. Povilas Bakšys and others.
The greatest misfortune of the persecuted church is that through the mouths of the Ordinaries speaks untruth. For example, the prestige of the Ordinaries suffered badly when, at the orders of the atheists, they condemned the petition of 17,000 faithful defending the freedom of religion in Lithuania.
We do not wish in any way to demean the authority of the Ordinaries, or by critical remarks to add to their already heavy burden. The priests and faithful of Lithuania wish only to help their bishops: By their statements in writing, and in private conversations, they request them not to hurt the Church. The clergy take care that their critical remarks to bishops not find their way into the pages of the broadly circulated press. But when the above-mentioned measures fail, only one alternative is left: to raise these questions in the underground press. Even though this way is painful and unpleasant, in some instances it has brought wonderfully good results.
We do not claim that the Ordinaries act unethically in all instances. The bishop is sometimes forced to take into account government officials and in certain circumstances he can make concessions, but not the kind which would be contrary to the Gospel and to essential Canon Law: in the areas of catechization, administration of sacraments and the like.
We trust that the Apostolic See will discipline or warn clergy on various levels who are overly zealous collaborators with the atheists.
The security police annually send to the seminary in Kaunas individuals who have compromised themselves morally—people of who it can more likely be expected that they will add to the ranks of these wrecking the Church. The numbers of those entering the seminary are strictly limited, and intelligent or well-educated young men are especially prevented from entering. The government prevents bishops from freely appointing the seminary administration or professors. Because of this, the educational level and discipline of the seminary suffers. Nevertheless, even in such circumstances some very exemplary priests finish the seminary. For this the atheistic government blames the bishops and the seminary and the seminary administration.
In Lithuania, along with zealous priests there are those who are lax, showing little concern for the catechization of the children, practical sermons, or individual pastoral care. They are satisfied simply with administering the sacraments to those who come to them. The administration of a diocese is made very much more difficult when the government interferes in the least details of clergy assignments. The bishop is often powerless when it comes to transferring a negligent priest, or one who has broken church law.
Pastoral ministry is especially neglected in the parishes in larger cities: especially in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, with a few exceptions. A large percentage of clergy working in cities fails to distin-quish itself by its courage or its zeal. Others are unable to carry out their duties on account of poor health or old age, and do not have the courage or the self-respect to resign from their duties. There are also some who when transferred by the bishop, appeal to the atheistic government to have the transfer delayed, in spite of a penalty of excommunication specially reserved to the Holy See.
As time goes on, there is a great increase in the number of parishes without priests or served by very elderly and ill priests. Clearly the pastoral activity of such priests is weak. It is especially difficult for priests to take care of several parishes.
Even though the Catholic catacomb and underground press performs an important function, nevertheless it is difficult for it to withstand the flood of printed atheistic propaganda.
Each year about seventy works with an anti-religious content are published. Large honorariums are paid for atheistic articles and books. Literature published during the era of Lithuanian independence has been destroyed in various ways (through the schools, confiscation during raids, etc.). The constantly repeated lying of atheistic propaganda arouses doubts and uncertainty in the younger generation.
A weak worldview is damaging to moral uprightness. Hence it is not surprising that many residents of Lithuania not only know little about religious questions, but their attitudes toward God, the Church and morality are completely wrong. The atheists' favorite themes are to smear the clergy, and raise the shortcomings of their moral life, not excepting even cardinals or popes. In this regard, they do not hesitate to make use of lies and deceit.
The undermining of the foundations of faith has had its effect on national morals. Its first fruit is the constantly growing breakdonw of the family. A broken family cannot rear children properly. The numer of juvenile crimes is growing, as well as moral laxity, especially in the trade schools and dormitories, and alcoholism and other vices are spreading.
All this adds greatly to the already heavy burden of pastoral work.
At this time in Lithuania the fundamental propagator of the atheistic worldview and wrecker of Christian morality is the school. For long ages teachers were the closest cooperators with spiritual leaders in the religious and moral training of youth. In some schools the teachers themselves used to teach religion. The situation changed with the annihilation of the partisans in Lithuania.
Since 1944, more than 2,000 teachers went into other professions on account of intolerable working conditions, especially the constant pressure to lie, deceive, and to mislead the innocent children of their fellow-countrymen. In teaching Lithuanian history, teachers are forced to denigrate their own nation, to suppress or distort its honorable past and to pay homage to its oppressors. They must promote the so-called brotherhood of nations, whose purpose is to russify Lithuania. About one-third of the teachers in Lithuania are members of the Party. Some of them are fanatical in their hatred of religion and of religious believers. They are obliged to carry out carefully all instructions sent them by the Party and by Moscow and to use the whole educational system to wage war on religion. Teachers are forced to tear children away from the influence of religious parents by taking up their leisure time, and especially Sundays. They require the children to dance and sing during Advent and Lent, to memorize atheistic poems, to sketch anti-religious pictures, to participate in atheistic plays, to ridicule the Church, God and the clergy.
However, the atheists cannot rejoice over the results of such education: In school, respect for the teacher's authority has disappeared and juvenile delinquency is on the rise, in quantity and scope, especially drunkenness and sexual promisquity. The plight of a large portion of Lithuanian youth is such, that their Christian faith has been wrecked, but atheism has not taken hold. But even among such youth, patriotic attitudes survive. The students are interested in Lithuanian history, but they are unable to appreciate the significance of Christianity in the Lithuanian nation's past, present and future. It would not be difficult to win many of them for God, if only they received more religious information.
At the present time there are more churches open and priests active in Lithuania than in the entire Soviet Union, but on account of government interference and the submissiveness of members of the hierarchy, Lithuanian priests have become little involved in missionary work in the Soviet Union. The six dioceses of Lithuania have 715 priests, but only three priests are working beyond the borders of Lithuania.
Father Albinas Dumbliauskas was even threatened with suspension by the administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas when he wanted to engage in apostolic work in Siberia.
Only with the greatest difficulty did Father Kazimieras Žilys win from the chancery of the diocese of Kaišiadoriai permission to go to Ukraine for apostolic work.
Father Feliksas Baliūnas still cannot obtain permission to go to the Catholics of Armenia, when there is not a single priest in Armenia, and the Apostolic See was very concerned to obtain a priest for the faithful of that country.
In this way great harm is being done to the Catholics of other nations, and the missionary ideal and religious enthusiasm is being diminished. This is an unpardonable error which the Apostolic See should take effective measures to correct.
Even though according to the Constitutions of the Soviet Union and of Lithuania, the Church is separated from the state, nevertheless the civil government interferes in the smallest details of Church activity. Without government permission, a priest may not invite a neighboring priest to a religious celebration; he may not even drive a nail in the wall (so stipulate the government officials).
Their latest plans to wreck the Church are clear from Order No. IX-748, of July 28, 1976, which is intended to paralyze religious activity completely. Parish executive committees are required to make new contracts with the government, in which they oblige themselves not to object when churches are closed. The atheists want to arrange that regardless of essential Canon Law of the Church, parishes would be controlled by executive committees selected from the laity, which would be packed with KGB collaborators.
The atheists in Lithuania seek to take over completely the finances of the Church. Their purpose is to profit from the sacrifices of the faithful and to bankrupt the smaller parishes. In these cases the atheists introduce the completely unnecessary paid positions of Executive Committee Chairman, Treasurer, etc. The salaries must be paid by the religious group. If its income is small, it is forced to dissolve. This is a new way of ridiculing the faithful. They are forced to support with their own money atheist officials who restrict the work of the Church.
Parishes are likewise required to appropriate money to the peace fund, a political propaganda organization led by atheists. These were the methods used to destroy the Russian Orthodox Church.
The new Commissioner for Religious Affairs in Lithuania, Petras Anilionis, has said that he intends to "straighten out" in a year and a half the mistakes his predecessor Kazimieras Tumėnas made in five years; i.e., failure to destroy the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania and to disorganize parish life.
From these facts it is clear that the Catholics of Lithuania and with them all the Catholics of the Soviet Union are waging a life-or-death struggle with atheism. To win it, we need the effective support of the Apostolic See and of our brother and sister Catholics.
We are happy with the beautiful resolutions of the Vatican II Council, which touch upon the suffering Church, urging special love for the persecuted bishops, priests, and believers, and the carrying of the light of the gospel there where it is least known, without fear of suffering or sacrifice.
These views of the Church were more than once emphasized, illuminated by the Holy Father Paul VI in his speeches. It was emphasized that diplomacy must serve pastoral needs; not vice versa. Various organizations were formed, which devote themselves to helping the suffering Church; and there was prayer for the suffering Church. The voices of our brother Catholics defending us are heard as becoming even stronger, though the Apostolic See during the last few years has not interceded for us energetically. The Catholics of the Soviet Union have felt especially misunderstood, left to the mercy of the atheists.
The so-called Ostpolitik of the Apostolic See was incomprehensible to us, especially in regard to the Soviet Union. In many instances we held it to be harmful to the Church — even ruinous. Because of it, pastoral work in the Soviet Union has been thwarted. We ourselves did not show the necessary activity and inventiveness. When various sects: Jehovah's Witnesses, Fundamentalists, Adventists and Pentacostals won many new members during the past 30 years, the Catholics and the Russian Orthodox were waiting for some kind of better times. It looks as if the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were able, at the order of the Kremlin, to convince the leaders of the Catholic Church that the best way for Catholics to maintain themselves in the Soviet Union is not to demonstrate any activity and to wait for better days. Meanwhile, the atheistic government of the Soviet Union acted with all its might and deceit, relentlessly destroying religion.
In our opinion, the yielding disposition of the Catholic Church to the government of the Soviet Union has proved harmful to the evangelization of the Soviet Union since World War II. There are many Catholics within the borders of the Soviet Union — Germans, Poles, Ukrainians and others. A significant part of them consists of Lithuanians. The Soviet government is trying to strip these ethnic minorities of their faith, knowing that the annihilation of their faith is the best means of russifying them and of breaking their spirit. That is why it is not surprising that besides the introduction of a Communist government in the Soviet Union, the atheists are also waging a steady and persistent battle against religion, using all physical and moral means to destroy the faith.
Since there are a good many Catholics in the Soviet Union, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church sought all sorts of ways of safeguarding believers in these countries, not excluding diplomatic activity. All the more, since life these days raises questions of importance to the world's believers and non-believers. The Church's stand on this question is illuminated by the decrees of the Vatican II Council inviting believers and atheists to serious dialogue.
How did the atheists of the Soviet Union respond to this invitation? They do not refuse to visit the Pope, to send condolences and letters of congratulation; they might even want to establish diplomatic relations, but at the same time they try to have the Apostolic See not to interfere in their destruction of Christianity — to remain silent while they persecute believers, put them in prison and kill them.
There was a time, when the Catholic Church protested publicly and supported persecuted Catholics in every way. Marxist atheism was even condemned in a special encyclical, Divini Redemptoris. For that reason Pope Pius XI was sentenced to death in absentia by the atheists of the Kremlin. However, the authority of the Roman pontiff had risen among the believers of Russia, especially in the eyes of the Russian Orthodox. Average believers according to the writer Rudzinsky, said: "Our real father is the pope, because he alone feels our pain, he prays for us and speaks out in our behalf."
Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, continued the line of Pius XI, granting various privileges to persecuted bishops, priests and believers.
Beginning with the rule of the Good Pope John XXIII, a new line was begun, the so-called Eastern Diplomacy. At this time in separate cases sympathy was shown to the believers of the Soviet Union, but the believers did not receive new concrete incentives to spread the teachings of Christ and new necessary legal authorization. The believers of the Soviet Union felt left to their fate, doomed to die a slow, quiet death. In place of public persecutions, imprisonments, banishments or labor camps, a quiet, but consistent stifling of religion started.
The diplomats of atheistic states began to visit the Vatican, and representatives of the Apostolic See — bishops and cardinals — the Soviet Union. They were received warmly, graciously, but conditions for believers did not improve; they even worsened, because the atheists reached the level at which religion was being demolished at the hands of some Catholic hierarchy, executing the instructions of the atheists and not showing them the necessary resistance.
In our opinion, such tactics were used by the Apostolic See in an effort to safeguard the believers of the Soviet Union from physical destruction; however the results obtained have been sad. In the eyes of the Soviet Union's inhabitants, the Catholic Church has lost its charm and the Holy Father's authority has fallen. One has taken to looking at the activities of the Apostolic See as being those of a secular action institution. The sectarians began to proclaim that the Catholic Church has begun to keep company with the devil. Many inhabitants of the Soviet Union became charmed with the various sects, which were bravely fighting with militant atheism.
General phrases saying that there are countries where believers are persecuted, and that the Church resolutely condemns persecutors, did not upset Moscow's atheists. They recognize only strong moral and physical force, mass protests, demonstrations and the like. They know the power of the Catholic Church, but until now that power has not been used ably.
The overly great trust placed in the representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate has a very negative effect on the believers of the Soviet Union. The Catholic Church, for ecumenical purposes, kept friendly ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, which represents the Soviet Union's atheistic politics more than the affairs of believers. We think that ecumenism would be far better served, if the Pope's authority was restored in the eyes of Russia's Christians as their zealous defender.
For years and years, the persecuted believers have not heard concrete words of incitement, on how to carry out evangelization as well as catechization in these countries, on how to prepare priests for mission work within the Soviet Union; no appropriate directions, instructions or new privileges were published. The priests of the Soviet Union, especially the younger ones, did not know if they have any kind of jurisdiction upon leaving the bounds of their diocese or how to solve many other problems.
Many of the young priests of Lithuania do not know what privileges arrested, exiled or fugitive priests have; nevertheless they are known by Lithuanian security workers. The Curia of Lithuania remains silent about them, in some cases even tries to forbid the use of those privileges. Besides, one can see from those privileges that they were written by individuals with feeble knowledge of Soviet living conditions. For example, according to them, Holy Mass is prohibited in the bedroom. Can one find a room in the Soviet Union, especially in prison, which is not used for sleeping?
We should learn from the atheists, communists and others, how they help their persecuted members operate. Risking their lives, they prepare propagandists, give them detailed instructions on how, where and when to act, prepare their ideological battle, plans. It is reminiscent of the gospel scene — Judas on the look-out, prepared to betray Christ, while Christ's apostles sleep.
The appointment of bishops excessively yielding to the atheists is harmful to Lithuanian religious life. Under our conditions, a bishop has to be a firm support for priests and faithful in the defense of freedom of religion and Church rights. It is an especially big misfortune if the bishop, the leader of a heroic struggling nation and clergy, yields excessively to atheists, hampering the combative nature of his believers. This makes believers and priests pessimistic, raises disappointment to anger with those, who unknowingly or insensitively recommend such weak-willed individuals for the Bishop's See, and with those upon whom the bishop's appointment rests. One of the characteristics of a bishop to the Baltic region before his appointment was "optinius ex pessimis". We are glad that finally our voice has reached the Apostolic See and the atheists of the Soviet Union were unable to promote their proposed candidates. The news that the new Holy Father is not prepared to appoint new public bishops for Lithuania until the government lets exiled bishops — His Excellency Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius—assume their responsibilities, upon reaching us brought us even more joy. The Holy Father feels our expectations. Appointment of new bishops in place of exiled bishops would be like a condemnation of Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, who defended Church rights, and Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, appointed without the consent of the atheist government.
Some of Lithuania's Ordinaries are no support to their priests, but rather a cause for scandal. One of the biggest misfortunes for the work of the entire Catholic Church is the incomprehensible faithful execution of instructions of the atheistic government by some members of the Lithuanian hierarchy.
One Lithuanian bishop, repeatedly warned in writing by priests of Lithuania and after a show of mistrust in him by the Apostolic See, once again recommended to the Apostolic See candidates for the bishopric in 1978, sycophorter individuals, available to the atheists as if they were their own chosen candidates, when in reality (he himself has said this) they were chosen by the atheists. Among them there was one for whom there were canonical impediments to ordination as a priest.
The bishop affirmed that a high official of the Apostolic See had asked him to announce to the Soviet administration, that a bishop's appointment without the consent of Soviet authority was a great mistake by the Apostolic See, which would never recur in the future. If this is the truth, then such a concession of the Apostolic See would be a refusal to fight for the Church's inalienable right to manage its own affairs independently from the government, let alone from the officials of the atheistic authority. They agree after all, to the candidacy of only those bishops, among whom they hope to have obedient assistants in destroying the faith. How painful it is for believers to have such leaders appointed by the Apostolic See, and to pledge them obedience, as required by Canon Law. What a terrible position this puts priests and believers in!
We are sure that the present Holy Father understands well the sad reasons for the division among our clergy and will, by warning the wayward and encouraging the faithful, do everything to enable us together to defend the freedom and rights of the Church.
The conferral of religious promotions on priests appeasing the government is destroying the religioius fervor of believers and priests.
About 600 Lithuanian priests have been in Soviet jails and labor camps. Not one of them has been acknowledged with a promotion by the Church for his suffering and loyalty. The honorary title of Monsignor was bestowed upon Fathers Česlovas Krivaitis, Povilas Bakšys, Bronius Barauskas, Juozas Stankevičius, known to the (faithful) as subservient to the politics of the Soviet atheists. One gets the impression that the Apostolic See consents, as it were, to the pro-government line of these clergymen, as if the sacrifice of martyrs and suffering for the faith is of no use to the Church.
The Polish priest-martyrs were treated quite differently. Even though there were fewer of them in Soviet labor camps than there were Lithuanians, Cardinal Wysczinski procured the title of Monsignor for the honorable Fathers — Br. Dzepecki, VI. Bukovins-ki and J. Kuchinski.
Naturally, struggling priests do not seek honorary promotions. Nevertheless, honoring them appropriately would sustain the spirit of the struggling priests and faithful and would reaffirm the correctness of their actions.
Thank God, our voice has been heard here also. Lately, cowardly and negligent priests have not been receiving honorary titles; nevertheless, the struggle of the zealous has not been supported correspondingly. This psychologically disarms the struggling young priests and scandalizes the faithful, who consider such a policy to be one of submission to those in power and disregard for the suffering and the struggling.
News has reached us that one who has suffered and has been loyal to the Holy See has been chosen as a prospective cardinal of Lithuania. This news greatly raised the spirits of the Lithuanian people. It is held to be an appreciation of the long struggle for God and Church in Lithuania, and as compensation for the many sacrifices and sufferings. But a simultaneous concern arises, that for such an honorable post a candidate be chosen deserving the respect of the whole nation, such as our bishops in exile.
Often our brothers abroad are also unable to help us. They complain that their efforts often come up against some kind of magical wall of insensitivity. Sometimes it is even worse — in their desire to help, they do harm instead, interceding on behalf of various questionable clergy in Lithuania.
One more of our sad problems: The administrators of the Vilnius and Kaišiadorius dioceses have angered believers in Lithuania and abroad for years and years with their behavior. Diocesan administrators have lost credibility. Is there no power in the Catholic Church which would decisively block the way for these offenses, with which our College of Ordinaries sees no reason to fight, or more likely is unable to. How can the persecuted faithful be allowed to be destroyed in the country where rank-and-file priests and Catholics suffer, and clergy sycophantic to the atheistic government live lavishly, irresponsibly squandering funds donated for Church purposes?
Vatican diplomats should not consider it a victory if they obtain from the atheists the right to appoint a new bishop, bound to serve their directives.
What has diplomacy achieved by this appeasement? In the whole of Soviet Russia, where there are millions of believing Catholics — Ukrainians, Poles, Germans, Lithuanians — beginning with Moscow and ending with Sakhalin, within a 10,000 km radius there is not one Church, not one publicly functioning Catholic priest left. The Churches of Moscow and Leningrad can be said to be dying, designated as showpieces for members of foreign and Vatican delegations. Here ceremonial rites of the Catholic Faith can still be performed, but only under the watchful eye of atheistic puppets.
One or the other active Catholic church can be found in the vast Soviet stretches of the South Asia, where Catholics have, with great difficulty, won the right to have Mass, often in very modest quarters.
Even worse, sychophantic diplomacy lulls the militancy of believers. With no churches, priests or catechization, a major part of the youth, born of once Christian families, has grown up as atheists or indifferent individuals, now very difficult to catechize.
If bishops and priests of Lithuania are allowed to yield without restraint to the government, and the resistance there does not receive successful support from the Apostolic See and the world's believers, then the same fate awaits Lithuania.
In an effort to avoid such a fate, our task is to fight for the cessation of deceitful and subtle Church persecution in the Soviet Union, that at least elementary rights be granted to the faithful not on paper, but in real life.
Should diplomats not take measures to end once and for all the insolent Moscow atheist-sponsored stifling of believers? If even now crosses and medals are ripped from the necks of tourists at the Moscow airport, if their suitcases are searched carefully for hours, so that no Bible or other books of religious content be brought into the Soviet Union, why talk of believers in the far corners of Siberia, whose cries of help cannot reach Rome, nor the believers of Lithuania? And now they are demolishing churches built by the faithful, putting disseminators of the Catholic press in jail, crowding people into psychiatric and venereal hospitals for daring to pray without permission.
And this is going on in that state which claim to have the "most democratic constitution", by which her citizens are said to be safeguarded from religious discrimination, where freedom of religions worship is guaranteed — where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Act have been signed, and where there is a clamor against human rights violations in other states?
What are these talks and signatures worth? When they are reproached for restricting and persecuting believers, they say that this is interference in their internal affairs. Meanwhile when they interfere in the affairs of many other states, and even in the most minute affairs of the Church, they regard this as permissible. They understand well, that the Catholics of the Soviet Union in essence are not enemies of the socialist system. Many Catholics work conscientiously in factories and collective farms. They know that Christianity is no brake to socialist progress, that the Church is not a supporter of exploiters, but is fighting in the front lines for human rights. The leaders of the Soviet Union themselves know well that the Church, having more freedom, could be a better assistant in fighting with the ever-increasing amoral phenomena here.
The Soviet government should not only recognize, but also in practice not restrict at least the essential human rights as well as the rights of the believers.
That is why the Catholics of Lithuania are not asking for any sort of privileges for the Church, but are demanding at least these elementary conditions in which it could survive and not be gradually annihilated.
. . . The Soviet Government must not only acknowledge but in practice stop suppressing at least basic human and religious rights.
Thus the Catholics of Lithuania do not ask any kind of privileges for the Church, but demand at least these most elementary conditions in which it would be able to survive, instead of being gradually destroyed.
Our basic demands of the atheistic government:
— To repeal without delay, and not to enforce, anti-constitutional, anti-humanistic laws which completely disregard the Christian world-view and morality — laws which are contrary to international obligations of the Soviet Union. Particularly important among these are the decrees of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet, dated July 28, 1976 and June 12, 1966, whose carrying out requires both Catholic clergy and the faithful to sin seriously against their conscience and against the requirements of Church Law.
— Not to forbid the catechization of children.
— Not to interfere with the ministration of sacraments to the sick and the dying.
— Not to interfere with the performance of religious ceremonies or with the administration of sacraments beyond the boundaries of the church providing the service.
— To stop interfering with the functioning of the seminary, so that it might freely accept candidates on its own. To allow the bishops freely to appoint suitable professors to the seminary. To cease demoralizing the seminarians by seeking to recruit them as agents for the KGB; to stop interfering with the expulsion from the seminary of students unsuitable for the priestly state. To stop interfering in the appointments of bishops and priests.
— To open churches and allow priests to work freely in those places where there are Catholics: e.g., Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Irkutsk, Minsk, and other places in the Soviet Union.
— In Lithuania, at least the following churches of historical and pastoral importance must be opened: The Cathedral of Vilnius, Šv. Kazimiero, Kauno Įgulos, and the church in Klaipėda.
— To allow the erection of churches in newly developed sections of the larger cities of Vilnius, Kaunas, Panevėžys, Šiauliai, and Elektrėnai.
— To allow Catholic publications: Catechisms, books of a more important religious nature, and Catholic newspapers, without crippling the contents by censorship.
— To allow the faithful to go to church and to receive the sacraments freely.
— Even if these essential rights cannot be won, the Catholics of the Soviet Union and of Lithuania have but one alternative: to operate in catacomb fashion.
— In a desire to crush the pastoral activities of the Church operating in catacomb conditions, the Soviet government may once again take extreme measures: arrests, trials, imprisonment and murder. Then they will be forced to show their truly inhuman face. Obviously such behavior on their part will be condemned not only by the religious believers of the world, but also by Communist Parties of the West which have not lost their humanity.
We wish peace based on justice. However, the Church of its nature cannot live at peace with moral evil, untruth, or hatred, of God. We feel very keenly that peace treaties with evil and with untruth are treaties bringing the silence of the grave. To struggle against evil by all means possible is Christ's command to us all.
The Catholics of Lithuania have learned to struggle against the atheists. Even in Lithuania, when they meet with unswering resistance on the part of priests and faithful, they are forced to back down.
The priests and faithful of Lithuania earnestly hope from the Apostolic See:
That it not give in to atheistic governments when they interfere with pastoral work.
That the affairs of the faithful of Eastern Europe be assigned to persons who know and understand better the living conditions of the faithful in the Soviet Union.
That the Church operating in catacomb fashion as well as the Church operating overtly be supported in every way—that they be given all the privileges and rights which the persecuted Church had in the early centuries, especially that the Church of the catacombs be assigned hierarches.
That there be no appointment of bishops who appease the atheistic government and that the present Ordinaries be obliged to defend the rights of the Church and not to make any concessions not in keeping with the Christian worldview, morality, and Canon Law; that those who transgress Church Law or hurt the Church be discharged from their duties or suitably punished according to canonical norms. In choosing candidates the exiled bishops should be consulted.
That the faithful of the entire world and people of good will be invited to defend more energetically, unitedly, and in better organized fashion with all effective means the persecuted believers of the entire Soviet Union.
The atheistic government of the Soviet Union appreciates the moral force of the Catholic Church and the significance of Catholic solidarity.
. . . This analysis of the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Catholic Church and this appeal to the Apostolic See, to Catholic Bishops, the faithful and all people of good will throughout the world we wrote and edited not sitting peacefully in some library, but expecting at any moment to be raided, arrested and tried. We trust that our voice will be heard and receive a favorable response. We are and remain faithful to Christ, the Church and the Holy Father. In our constant prayers we will ask strength for His Holiness to carry out successfully the mission given him by Divine Providence . . .