On November 22, 1978, three priests—Alfonsas Svarinskas, Sigitas Tamkevičius and Juozas Zdebskis—announced at a press conference for foreign correspondents that the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers had been set up in Lithuania on November 13th. The reporters were introduced to the members of the Committee, its goals and four documents which it has drafted.
We reprint below the Committee's appeal sent to Lithuania's bishops and Soviet authorities and handed out to the foreign correspondents: ^
Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers
Since the end of World War II the bishops, priests and believers of Lithuania have often encountered religious discrimination. The situation of other believers in the Soviet Union is similar. Believers do not have the rights which atheists enjoy in the state. The Soviet Constitution only proclaims the freedom of religion, but even this limited freedom is often restricted in actual practice. Most of the laws which regulate the affairs of believers are inadequate for conditions in Lithuania and contradict not only the Soviet Constitution, but international USSR agreements as well.
We Catholics have therefore resolved to found the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers which will strive to attain for Catholics rights equal to those of atheists. Through our activity we hope to help the faithful, and once the legal and practical equality of believers and atheists is achieved, the prestige of the Soviet Union in the Christian West will increase considerably.
In striving toward this goal, we are resolved to:
— draw the attention of Soviet authorities to instances of discrimination against the Church and individual believers;
— inform Church officials, and if need be, society in general about the situation of believers in Lithuania and other Soviet Republics;
— seek that Soviet laws and their practical application, as regards the affairs of the Church and believers, not violate international USSR agreements;
— explain to priests and believers their rights and help defend them.
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers will act publicly and will not seek any political goals.
Although the Committee will primarily concern itself with the defense of the rights of Catholics, it will also attempt to help other believers who appeal to it.
The Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers declares its solidarity with the defenders of human rights in the Soviet Union and throughout the world, and is determined to cooperate with all of them in defending human rights. We especially want to cooperate closely with the USSR Christian Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers. We will consider this cooperation to be our modest contribution not only to the defense of human and religious rights, but also to the eccumenical movement.
If any member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers cannot perform his duties, he will be immediately replaced by a candidate selected in advance.
The Committee asks interested individuals to send their questions to any member of this Committee.
Addresses of the members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers:
Rev. Jonas Kauneckas, 235610 Telšiai, Pionierių g. 51:
Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas, Z34422 Raseinių raj., Viduklė, Šaltinio g- 1;
Rev. Sigitas Tamkevičius, 234290 Vilkaviškio raj., Kybartai, Darvino g. 12:
Rev. Vincas Velavičius, 235915 Skaudvilė, Tauratės g. 17; Rev. Juozas Zdebskis, 234560 Lazdijų raj., Šlavantai.
November 13, 1978
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers did not select a chairman or secretary; all five members jointly draft documents and equally assume responsibility for the activity of the Catholic Committee.
In their first document, the members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers appeal to the Holy Father:
For a long time, even when the hardships of our faithful loudly cried out for help, when we were persecuted and fought back, we were considered the "Church of Silence." We greatly rejoiced upon hearing from Your Holiness' lips that henceforth the "Church of Silence" no longer exists because it will speak through the Pope's lips.
In the Church, the loudest voice heard is that of the successors of the Apostles, the bishops; but under conditions of militant atheism this voice is sometimes completely stifled. Aware of our responsibility before God and the Church and also aware of the fact that objective information on the situation of the Catholic Church in Lithuania did not always reach the Apostles' Throne, we priests of Lithuania have decided to speak and defend the most sacred rights of the Church and the faithful, because our silence and waiting create the most favorable conditions to destroy the Church from within and without. With this goal in mind, we have formed the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers.
Declaring filiai love and unconditional loyalty to the Apostles Throne, we ask Your Holiness to bless our resolve and work.
November 13, 1978
Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers:
The second document asks that exiled bishops Vincentas Sladkevičius and Julijonas Steponavičius be allowed to perform their pastoral duties.
The third document, addressed to the USSR Minister for Internal Affairs, asks that the Rev. Pranas Masilionis be permitted to visit his brothers who live in the U.S. The Soviet government has many times refused Father Masilionis permission to leave for the U.S., thereby brutally violating the Helsinki Final Act.
In the fourth document, addressed to Religious Affairs Commissioner Anilionis, the members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers recount the punishment imposed on Fathers Jonas Zubrus, Alfonsas Svarinskas and Sigitas Tamkevičius for conducting All Souls Day processions and view this as brutal discrimination against the priests and the faithful. The document states: "We are convinced that it is necessary not only to rescind the above-mentioned punishment, but also to strike the Statutes on Religious Congregations (LSSR Supreme Soviet Presidium, 7/28/1976) which are unconstitutional and contrary to USSR international agreements and are used to discriminate against priests and the faithful. So long as these statutes are in effect, the Catholics of Lithuania will think of themselves as second-class Soviet Union citizens."
At the press conference, the foreign correspondents were also appraised in the letter addressed to Pope John Paul II, the officials of the Orthodox Church, the Primate of the Anglican Church, the World Council of Churches, the Christian Social Affairs Committees and President Carter. The letter was signed by the members of the USSR Christian Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers and the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of believers. The letter asks that efforts be made urging the United Nations to adopt the "Convention on the Fight Against Religious Discrimination" or a comparable document.