May 5, 1979 No. 15
To: The Bishops and Diocesan Administrators of Lithuania
For a long time, we priests of Lithuania have waited for the Ordinaries to speak out on the current problems of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, we were therefore rather surprised to see the first public statement written on April 6th and addressed to the Office of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs. We thank Lithuania's Ordinaries for this public statement but also feel obliged to express our concern on most of the questions raised or excluded.
The priests of Lithuania are very concerned and doubt whether the Liturgical Commission will be capable of preparing a suitable final Lithuanian text for a Missal. For example, Father Č. Kavaliauskas' translation of the New Testament has met no little well-founded criticism. Would it not be worth making greater efforts to have our Liturgical Commission maintain contact with specialists in the field—emigrant Lithuanian priests — and adopt what they have accomplished and not start from the very beginning?
The Ordinaries are requesting 500,000 catechisms, but do not even mention prayerbooks which both children and adults find in such short supply. What will the 40,000 children who receive First Communion this year use to pray? In our opinion, it is high time continually to remind the Soviet government that we Catholics of Lithuania need not only religious primers and prayerbooks, but religious literature as well, because we must have the opportunity to breathe and nourish ourselves spiritually.
It is very good that the Ordinaries ask the quota of seminarians to be increased, but it is unfortunate that they do not demand that the Ordinaries be given the right to chose candidates to the seminary. It is no secret that during the entire postwar period, and especially over the past two decades, atheists have so interfered in the selection of candidates that the best ones were prevented from entering the theological seminary. Actually, we should not plead that the quota of entrants to the Seminary be increased, but clearly demand that government officials observe their own laws and stop interfering in the seminary's internal affairs. The atheists are constantly claiming that the seminary is supposedly administered by church authorities; the Ordinaries must therefore administer the seminary and not gloss over the blatant interference of government officials in seminary life.
The Ordinaries ask that, for tax purposes, the Church of the Holy Trinity in Kaunas be considered a cult building and not a warehouse; i.e. the taxes lowered. Must such a request be decided by the College of Ordinaries? The burdensome tax load is especially enormous for country churches: their insurance rates are three times as high as those of city churches. During the initial postwar years, when the countryside had no fire prevention stations, the higher rates were justified, but now that every state farm has a fire brigade, three-fold insurance rates are just plain arbitrariness on the part of state agencies. Or how can one justify the fact that churches up to now pay 25 kopeks per kWh of electricity, while the highest rate charged private individuals is just 4 kopeks per kWh? Lithuania's Ordinaries should raise these questions publicly.
Lithuania's Ordinaries ask the Religious Affairs Commissioner to intercede in securing permission to rebuild the steeple of the church of Kretinga.
Whether the church of Kretinga does or does not have a steeple will not change the pastoral ministry which has been crushed in this parish through the fault of the priests. First of all, we must ask not for permission to rebuild the steeple, but that Ordinaries be allowed to independently appoint priests to parishes. But what happens currently? At the instigation of atheist government officials, the largest parishes are served by negligent, old, infirm priests and often by priests who live scandalous lives, and the Ordinaries cannot appoint the most zealous and able priests to pastorally important parishes. For instance, the faithful of Klaipeda have long requested the Administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai to transfer their pastor and appoint a new one, but the Administrator is powerless to do this.
Religious Affairs Commissioner Anilionis demands that the associate pastor of the Cathedral of Telšiai, Father J. Kauneckas, be transferred to some remote parish of the diocese, off the beaten path, so that he will have nothing to do there.
That some Commissioner prevented the Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas from appointing an assistant pastor to the huge parish of Viduklė: Let the pastor whom the government dislikes meet an early demise because he must work alone!
We do not deny that churches need steeples, but declare that the main concern of us all—Ordinaries and priests—must at this time be to rebuild the living Church. The time has come for the Ordinaries to speak out loudly: Give us the freedom to administer the affairs of the Church and priests!
The Ordinaries ask permission to expand the church at Ignalina and review the problem of the church in Klaipeda. We must not expand the above-named churches, but demand that the illegally plundered churches in Ignalina and Klaipeda be returned. The faithful of these parishes have for many years demanded that the confiscated churches be returned, the Ordinaries should therefore do their utmost to support this initiative. It is also essential that the Vilnius Cathedral and St. Casimir's Church which has been turned into an atheist museum be returned. For, the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Casimir is approaching (1984).
The priests of Lithuania certainly cannot understand what the Ordinaries' request to expand the liturgical calendar to include "sermon matter and other material' means. If the liturgical calendars intended for the use of priests were to include two or three sentences on the day's religious feast or saint, priests would certainly not use them for their sermons, while the godless would declare to the whole world that sermon material is allowed in Lithuania. If you ask, then ask in earnest: Allow sermon material to be made available to Lithuania's priests, allow at least one sermon book to be published annually, allow our brethren abroad to send us religious literature. Meanwhile, religious literature from abroad is merely amassed in special funds to which only important atheists—i.e. J. Aničas, P. Mišutis and others—have access with special permission.
We cannot verify the accuracy of rumors that this statement by the Ordinaries was supposedly inspired by government officials, but it is clear to every Lithuanian priest that the ninth item of the statement: "The Ordinaries feel it would be appropriate for the predominant Catholic Church of Lithuania to have an illustrated publication depicting the life and work of our Church" is certainly not inspired by the Divine Spirit. Will such a publication depict how the Church is stifled in Lithuania, how the hands of the Ordinaries are tied, how believing intellectuals are suffering? No, such a publication would not touch on such matters. Or perhaps it will contain photographs of how the faithful faint during services in the overcrowded church of Klaipėda, how the ruins of demolished churches stand in many Lithuanian towns—i.e. in Sintautai, Pilviškiai, Bartininkai, Alvitas and elsewhere—and no one will grant permission to rebuild them, how teachers rip medals and crosses from around the necks of children? Then what will such an "illustrated publications" print? The photographs of Ordinaries attending peace conferences? Yes, but such photographs can only outrage the faithful. The priests of Lithuania are convinced that such an "illustrated publication" would simply be a propaganda bubble for the world, especially as the time draws near for the Olympics in Moscow. We therefore ask the Ordinaries to withdraw their request for an "illustrated publication," for such a publication would serve not the Church, but the godless.
Immediately after Easter, Religious Affairs Commissioner Ani-lionis tried to persuade the deans of all the dioceses to observe the Regulations for Religious Associations. According to the Commissioner, the deans must help see to it that all the priests of Lithuania observe these Regulations.
The following inferences can be drawn from the meetings which were held:
a. The Council for Religious Affairs wishes to frighten the deans, and through them the priests; it is for this purpose that the deans were summoned not to the Chanceries but to the Executive Committees;
b. An attempt is under way to stifle the Catholic Church through the deans;
c. Priests are being ordered to become partners in the crime of the godless in violating the rights of believing children: not instruct them, drive them away from the altar, from processions, etc.;
d. The deans were humiliated at these meetings, for, while the Commissioner was demanding that they betray the interests of the Church, they were served coffee;
e. The diocesan chanceries degraded themselves, because the deans were summoned to the Executive Committees not by government officials, but by the chanceries. For example, Council for Affairs Aide Kožukauskas sent the following telegram to His Excellency Bishop Labukas: "On April 24, 1979 a meeting will be held at the Kaunas City Executive Committee for the deans of your diocese. The meeting is scheduled for 2:00 PM. Please see to it that all deans attend. You are also requested to attend this meeting." Upon receiving the order, all the chanceries immediately hastened to carry it out.
At the beginning of this year, 522 Lithuanian priests and two bishops—Their Excellencies Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius—spoke out on a matter of vital importance to the Church: that they will not be able to observe the Regulations for Religious Associations imposed on the Church, and demanded that they be repealed. It would be very appropriate for the Ordinaries of Lithuania now in office to speak out on this matter as well.
We especially urge the Ordinaries to concern themselves with violations of children's rights in Lithuania, and to constantly raise during the Year of the Child this painful, but very important, question. We are convinced that we clergymen are not without blame regarding the children. The Ordinaries could at least in private urge priests to show more concern' for children and young people, to suggest that those who, through fear or negligence, neglect their pastoral work with children move to the country and cede their places to more courageous and zealous priests.
Your Excellencies, Divine Providence permits us to live and work at a very important and critical time in the life of the Church; let us therefore carry out with honor the mission entrusted us by God.
Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers:
The Revs. Jonas Kauneckas
Alfonsas Svarinskas Sigitas Tamkevičius Vincas Vėlavičius Juozas Zdebskis
The Catholic Committee for the
Defense of the Rights of Believers
May 25, 1979 No. 16
To: The Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR:
The Education Ministry of the Lithuanian SSR
We are extremely concerned that students continue being terrorized in the schools of the Lithuanian SSR. On May 15th, (Mrs) Irena Želvienė appealed to the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers. It is apparent from her statement that her son Egidius, a student at Middle School No. 4 in Telšiai, is being subjected to very painful persecution. Teacher (Mrs) Pilipavičienė forcibly tied the scarf of the Pioneers on Egidius Želvius who is a believer and does not belong to any organization, and when he objected, struck him in the face and together with teacher (Miss) Petraitytė insulted him, calling him a religious fanatic and even using obscene words. A large group of children witnessed this "pedagogy."
Mr. Andrijauskas, Vice Principal of Middle School No. 4 in Telšiai and chairman of theRayon Council for Coordinating Atheist Work, voiced his outrage in the rayon newspaperKomunizmo Švyturys (Communist Beacon) (April 17, 1979) that Vatican Radio reports the persecution of students at the schools of Telšiai. He even dares to claim he knows of no instance of "students being given lower grades because of their religious beliefs, being given lower conduct marks or being ridiculed or insulted by teachers."
Many instances of students being insulted and ridiculed can be named.
Physical education teacher Valenčius of Middle School No. 4 in Telšiai exerted physical force on April 17, 1979 when he removed crosses from fourth-grade students Saulius Stonkus and Mažeika.
At that same school, history teacher Karnishova questioned ninth-grader Rita Bubliauskaitė about religion during the entire class, mocked her, insulted her, ordered her to talk about the priests she knows, etc.
On April 20th of this year we alerted you that believing student Vitalijus Semenauskas is persecuted by Communist Youth League members at Middle School No. 1 in Plungė, that teachers are not coming to his defense, but we received no reply, although Soviet agencies are obliged to reply within one month.
Please see to it that similar crimes by educators not recur in the future. Such educators do not belong in the Soviet school.
Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers: The Revs. Jonas Kauneckas
Alfonsas Svarinskas Sigitas Tamkevicius Vincas Velavicius Juozas Zdebskis