For eight months the Soviet government silently tolerated the activity of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights; however, it lost its patience when 522 Lithuanian priests and two bishops voiced their support. Two members — Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius — were summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR and warned they could be charged for their activities under Article 68, Paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code of the Lithuanian SSR. Fr. Alfonsas Svarinskas was warned by Assistant Republican Prosecutor A. Novikov, while Fr. Sigitas Tamkevičius received the warning from Republican Prosecutor Kairelis himself. Both priests refused to sign the admonition and replied to the charges by writing to the Prosecutor's Office of the Lithuanian SSR.
Father Alfonsas Svarinskas's Statement to the Prosecutor
of the Lithuanian SSR
"To: The Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR
Bishop Liudvikas Povilonis, Apostolic
Administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and the Diocese of Vilkaviškis
The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights.
"From: Father Alfonsas Svarinskas,
Pastor of the Roman Catholic Parish of Viduklė
"On Sunday, September 2 of this year, at about 10 a.m., the Prosecutor's Office of Raseiniai Rayon served me with a summons to appear on September 3 at the Prosecutor's Office of the Lithuanian SSR in Vilnius at 4 Gogol Street, office no. 55.
"I was at the designated address at 4 p.m. the following day. Awaiting me was Internal Security Enforcement Chief Prosecutor Bakučionis, who back in 1961 had tried me in absentia (I was then in a Mordovian labor camp), hailed me as an 'especially dangerous repeat offender,' and had forced me to put on the striped concentration camp uniform and suffer all the consequences of that terrible regime. He took me to A. Novikov, first deputy of the Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR. The latter accused me on two points:
"(l) An anti-Soviet attitude runs like a red thread through all my sermons. He explained that whenever I say 'godless,' I intend it to mean the Soviet government.
"(2) That together with others I founded and took part in the illegal so-called Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, whose documents find their way into the foreign press and radio and cause great harm to the prestige of the USSR.
"Under Article 68 of the Criminal Code of the Lithuanian SSR, a criminal case can be brought against me he said. The above accusations were in the form of an 'official' Soviet warning.
"I did not sign the unfounded admonition.
"Having thought over the charges levelled against me, I have the honor to state the following (I believe this will be useful to both the matter at hand and for history):
"1. A great misfortune of both the Lithuanian faithful in general and mine as a Catholic priest is that all Soviet officials with whom we must deal are first atheists and second representatives of the Soviet government. A priest cannot win against the self-will of these officials or atheists. The easiest way to deal with a believer, especially a priest, is to label him anti-Soviet. It is Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, pastor of Kybartai, and I who have been victimized in this case. A day after our summons the public was already informed of this by the press: Tiesa (Truth) on September 5, Valstiečių laikraštis (Farmers' newspaper) on September 6, and the Raseiniai Rayon Naujas rytas (New Dawn) on September 8. These reports, however, had precisely the opposite effect than intended, both in Lithuania and abroad.
"2. The Soviet press and Soviet propaganda frequently mention the January 23,1918, decree by Lenin separating the Church and the State; they also cite Article 52 of the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR regarding freedom of conscience. It is unfortunate that the practice is entirely different:
"a. The Church is not accorded juridical rights. Churches built by the faithful over the last 600 years have been confiscated. They are burdened with heavy taxes.
"b. Catholics are forbidden to use the press or radio broadcasts. Not a single catechism has been published during the entire Soviet era. Prayer books were printed in very small, inadequate quantities and only for propaganda purposes.
They were printed on newsprint intentionally and have deteriorated badly
"c. The single seminary, in Kaunas (there were four before the war), is being hampered; for example, this year only six new priests were trained, while fourteen have died. Candidates for the priesthood and their instructors are appointed by atheists under the authority of the Religious Affairs Commissioner. A bishop cannot visit a parish to celebrate mass without the commissioner's consent. And what can be said about the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation? The atheists direct the bishop as to where and how often this sacrament may be administered. Believers and their children are sometims forced to travel several hundred kilometers (for instance, from Žagarė to Kaunas).
"The situation of the believers and Catholics in Lithuania is becoming more difficult each day. We would even be satisfied with as much freedom as propaganda abroad claims we have.
"d. Over the years the work of our bishops and administrators has been completely paralyzed by the Religious Affairs Commissioners. In fact, it is they who actually run the Church even though they occasionally claim for the purpose of propaganda that the Soviet government never interferes with internal affairs of the Church or in matters of dogma and canons. Our bishop has not been able to appoint an assistant pastor for Viduklė parish all year. This large parish is suffering because of the will of the atheists, but these are the usual methods used by them in their ideological 'struggle.' The rayon leadership, influenced by attitudes 'from above,' is now telling pastors which priests to invite to celebrate mass and to preach sermons at religious festivals (at Šiluva and elsewhere).
"e. A crude, primitive, and deceitful propaganda campaign is being waged against religious beliefs and the church over the radio and in the press (especially the regional). Believers are turned into second-class citizens since the courts do not defend them, and the doors of newspapers are closed to their letters.
"f. Two bishops —Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius — have been exiled for twenty years without a trial; no one knows at whose orders and for how much longer. Isn't it time the Prosecutor's Office of the Lithuanian SSR took an interest in this painful matter, a matter which certainly brings no honor to the Soviet government? Isn't it time that the ordeal of these two martyred bishops is brought to an end and the public informed of the rectified wrong?
"g. Catholic school children are forcibly enrolled in atheist organizations and are given lower conduct grades as punishment for attending church. In this respect Viduklė is no exception.
"h. Attempts are being made to hold Catholic community meetings in public school auditoriums and to form atheistic parish councils (for example, in Kirdeikiai and Daugailiai in Utena Rayon).
"i. There are attempts to liquidate the Church by means of the Regulations for Religious Associations, which have been written and endorsed by atheists to serve their own ends.
"Atheists are destroying churches by burning them (Batakiai, Gaure, Šiauliai, Leipalingis, Sangruda) or by stealing and desecrating that which believers hold dearer than life: the Blessed Sacrament (Upyna, Dotnuva, Žemaičių Kalvarija, Seda, and elsewhere). Finally, the latest devastation of the church in Alsėdžiai on the night of the 22 to 23 revealed the true face of the atheists. Believers characterize such acts not as hooliganism but as direct Satanism.
"This summer several teenagers went on trial in Druskininkai for burglarizing four churches. Unfortunately, the public was not informed of this by either the Prosecutor's Office or the press. On the other hand, a so-called crime of two priests was widely publicized by several newspapers. The Soviet government, through its silence and indifference, encourages real crime.
"So, can Lithuania's faithful love the atheists and respect the Soviet government? In the future, Lithuanian dictionaries will designate 'atheism' as a curse word. Is this not the fault of the atheists themselves?
"As a priest, I have frequent occasion to clash with government officials. They are the same as the regional leadership. In regard to religious believers, Raseiniai Rayon is one of the worst in Lithuania. I would like to support this statement with some recent facts.
"Even before my arrival in Viduklė (August 17,1976), the then executive committee vice chairman, Z. Butkus, was already defaming me to the priests.
"The pastor of Viduklė has become an obsession to the secretary of the rayoncommittee, Z. Grimaila. At various meetings the first secretary often spends more time discussing the pastor than he does regional affairs.
"In 1978 Executive Committee Chairman A. Skeiveris organized an assault on the Viduklė church when the pastor was testing the children for First Holy Communion. It is not surprising, therefore, that Township Chairman A. Zigmantas can both bring charges and act as state's witness at the same trial (1977).
"Often collective farm officials have threatened to dismiss parents from work, demanding that they personally chase their children away from the altar and out of processions.
"My written statements never receive a written reply from the rayon leadership as Soviet law requires. As recently as October 1977 Vice Chairman Z. Butkus informed me: 'We never write to religious communities, and we will never grant you permission to go to the cemetery.' Atheists are allowed to pay their respects to the dead either on All Soul's Day or on Victory Day, but the faithful are forbidden to do so. Believers are allowed to pay respect to their dead only under the supervision of the atheists. I was fined 50 rubles in 1976 and 1978 for holding a purely religious procession on All Souls' Day. Fr. Sigitas Tamkevičius, pastor at Kybartai, and Fr. Jonas Zubrus, pastor at Palomenė, received similar fines.
"On November 1, 1977, Viduklė State Poultry Farm Director E. Zaikauskas attempted to disrupt a procession by sending trucks and manure wagons into the street to create the impression that the faithful were impeding traffic. In addition, he had loudspeakers blaring in the cemetery so that the people could not hear the priest's sermon. But the Raseiniai Prosecutor remained silent.
"Last year on November 1 the teachers Vaičekauskas and Mockus kept running to the rectory and interfered as girls changed for the procession. During the procession, Mockus, Viduklė Middle School party secretary, ran through the lines with a camera and photographed the priest and individual participants. The outrage of the faithful could have manifested itself in an undesirable eruption. But again, all of this went unnoticed by public officials because both of the teachers were acting with orders 'from above.'
"On September 4 of this year, Raseiniai Executive Committee Vice Chairwoman O. Stonienė summoned the chairman of the parish council, I. Paulauskas, and urged the active members of the Church to band together and not listen to the pastor and refuse to visit the cemetery on All Souls' Day.
"Before the Šiluva religious festival, some Viduklė residents were summoned by township authorities, others by the Commissar of the Land Improvement Agency. Both demanded that people not use their cars to take passengers, especially children, to Šiluva.
"This year, as every year, people travelled from Viduklė to Šiluva on September 12 to pray, go to confession, and to receive Holy Communion. They wanted to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to dedicate their souls to God. But, a group of 'civilians' stood in front of the church door to prevent Christians, particularly children, from entering.
They grabbed one woman by the arm and started to drag her away from the churchyard. Only when she began screaming "Help, thieves!" did they let go of her and leave. People recognized these atheist "activists": [Mrs.] Kvietkiene from the Rayon committee and Mockus, a teacher; Viduklė State Poultry Farm Party Secretary Mačiulaitis; Communist Youth League Secretary [Mrs.] Bružienė; and others. Tell me, weren't they violating Article 52 of the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR, as well as certain international agreements signed by the USSR? It is these'activists,'not the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, who are giving the foreign press material to write about. They are eroding Soviet prestige around the world.
"During the Šiluva religious festival, various "civilians" entered the apartments of devout women and conducted searches.
"On September 12, 1979, at the height of the festival, Chairman A. Skeiveris of the Raseiniai Rayon Executive Committee summoned Fr. Vaclovas Grauslys, the pastor of Šiluva, to Raseiniai, and in the presence of Vice Chairwoman [Mrs.] O. Stonienė, forcibly obtained the pastor's signature on a pledge that he would not allow member-priests of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights to celebrate high mass on September 15 at Šiluva. The time has come for the Prosecutor's Office of the Lithuanian SSR to discipline the atheists of Raseiniai and to let them know that Šiluva is administered by the bishop and the pastor and that the rayon authorities should rather concern themselves with the neglected birthplaces of Maironis and Stanevičius or at the least with the problems of the run-down streets. The member-priests of the committee did manage to celebrate mass, but the spirit of the entire festival was marred for the Šiluva pastor.
"This incident at Šiluva provides a graphic illustration of the "fullness of religious freedom" enjoyed by the Catholics of Lithuania.
"Immediately following the festival, the head of the Raseiniai Security Police, Gardauskas, summoned and interrogated Fr. Vaclovas Grauslys, (September 18) detaining him for three hours; Fr. Vytautas Griganavičius, pastor of Raseiniai (September 19); Fr. Antanas Urbonavičius, Raseiniai (September 21); and Fr. Jonas Račaitis, pastor of Lioliai (September 24). In addition to other things, they were questioned about the sermon Fr. Jonas Kauneckas preached at Šiluva on September 15.
"In spite of the blackmail activities by the atheists and in spite of hindrances in attending the festival, religious rebirth in Lithuania is already a clearly perceptible fact. It gladdens some and enrages others, but it cannot be ignored.
"Lithuania is preparing for two important occasions: the 500th anniversary of the death of St. Casimir (1984) and the 600th anniversary of the establishment of Christianity (1987). We all have one goal: to renew everything in Christ! We have to rejuvenate our nation spiritually since godlessness has so painfully disfigured it over the last several postwar decades.
"As long as the discrimination of believers remains a fact in the Soviet Union (unfortunately it is not decreasing), there will be a need for the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights. Its activities will not be paralyzed by the harsh judicial treatment of one or more of its members. The committee will continue to inform Soviet authorities and the Church hierarchy of the grave violations of believers' rights that occur in Lithuania and the other Soviet republics.
"We are deeply convinced that with God's blessing and with support from Pope John Paul II and the public opinion of the world we shall some day achieve full religious freedom.
" 'God is our refuge and our strength.' (Ps 45:2).
Viduklė, October 1, 1979
Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas, Pastor of Viduklė
Member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of
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An Open Letter from Fr. Sigitas Tamkevičius to the
Prosecutor's Office of the Lithuanian SSR
"On August 29,1979, you summoned me to your office and ordered me to sign an admonition regarding offenses I am alleged to have committed and which are punishable according to Article 68, Paragraph 1 of the Lithuanian SSR Criminal Code. The warning listed the following charges: in my sermon to have spread deliberate fabrications which discredit Soviet reality; to have actively contributed to the establishment of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, to have prepared its documents, which have reached the West, and to have urged believers to violate Soviet laws.
"The deputy prosecutor in charge of interrogation for internal security, Bakučionis, explained which of my actions the Prosecutor's Office considers criminal. I am alleged to have stated in my sermons that the Soviet government does not seriously combat alcoholism, that Catholic schoolchildren are being persecuted in school, and that atheistic education is responsible for most of our current problems. Furthermore, even though in my sermons I speak out against atheism, I am actually referring to the Soviet government.
"The Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights is not registered and, therefore, is illegal. This is the reason Soviet agencies do not respond to the committee s statements.
"During my two trials at Vilkaviškis and Varėna, I am alleged to have incited the faithful to disobey Soviet law.
"I did not sign the prosecutor's admonition because I disagreed in essence regarding the charges against me and promised to send a reply.
"The accusation that I have spread deliberate fabrications which discredit the Soviet political and social system is absurd. Let your zealous informers show one item in any of my sermons that is slander rather than the reality of today. I have not slandered the government in my sermons; I merely criticized Soviet officials for their discrimination against religious believers, a right given to me by the Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR, which states, among other things, 'Persecution for criticism is forbidden. Persons who persecute on the grounds of criticism are subject to prosecution' (Article 47).
"In Soviet schools children who are religious face constant discrimination. These are not isolated cases, as you, Mr. Prosecutor, have claimed, but are widespread throughout Lithuania. In Kybartai ample proof of discrimination against religious children exists, from the forcible public list-making of believing students participating in religious functions to the dispensing of low deportment marks for attending church to the interrogation of altar boys. It is not I who should have been reprimanded for bringing to light the discrimination against students who practice their religion, but those who persecute them by committing a crime not only against human rights but also against Soviet laws. Once organs of the Soviet government begin showing more concern about the religious discrimination of schoolchildren and begin punishing the true offenders, there will be no need for us, the priests, to speak about it.
"Is it not, in fact, true that the Soviet government officials do little to combat drunkeness? City and rural stores are glutted with alcohol and cheap wine; the resale of liquor is flourishing, and the whole nation is drowning in alcoholism. Yet, what is being done to halt this disaster? Independent temperance groups are not allowed to operate, production quotas for alcoholic beverages (never reported by the press) are not being lowered but raised. Legal committees to combat alcoholism do not concern themselves with helping people stay sober but only with the prevention of crime and venereal disease, with the confinement in 'dry-out clinics,' and with the absenteeism from work. The leaders of the Lithuanian SSR long ago should have stopped to wonder: Why does the Soviet citizen annually consume 170-180 rubles' worth of alcohol?
"Prosecutor Bakučionis accused me of blaming the Soviet government for all current social problems. It is most unfortunate that poorly educated informers, incapable of distinguishing the concept of an 'atheist' from that of the 'Soviet government,' are being sent to the Kybartai church. I do not speak out against the Soviet government in my sermons; however, as a priest I have not only the right, but the obligation, to fight against atheism, which, according to my deepest convictions, has during the postwar years created a spiritual vacuum. It has destroyed moral foundations and opened the gates to a multitude of crimes which the prewar, deeply religious Lithuania did not even imagine.
"The second charge against me is that I am supposed to have founded the allegedly illegal Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights and that I have written documents which have reached the West, slandering the Soviet system.
"I along with four other priests assume responsibility for founding the committee and preparing its documents. We were not prompted to do this by the U.S. Congress, as you, Mr. Prosecutor, allege, but by the constant persecution of the Lithuanian Catholic Church. Assume for a moment that you are a Christian and savor the type of 'religious freedom' found in Soviet Lithuania. Two bishops, Julijonas Steponavičius and Vincentas Sladkevičius, have endured exile for the past twenty years without being charged or a trial. Other bishops cannot assign priests to parishes without the knowledge and consent of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs. Not a single young man can enter the theological seminary without the consent of the security police. This year some ten candidates were prevented from studying at the seminary. The work of a priest in his parish is kept under surveillance and subjected to restrictions. Believers cannot work in schools or hold responsible positions. Not only I but all Christians in Lithuania would like to know what the Prosecutor's Office has ever undertaken so that the persecution would end and that the affairs of the Church and of the State would be truly separate? Show, if you can, just one example of the Soviet government's punishing a Lithuanian atheist for actively discriminating against believers. This discrimination is a wound that is not attended to but hidden. For this reason you cannot tolerate the committee, which defends the rights of the faithful and the church. It has never been the committee's intention to war against or undermine the Soviet government. That is why it is inappropriate to attribute non-existent crimes to its members. You call the committee illegal because it has not been registered. Mr. Prosecutor, you are well aware that we do not operate secretly. We applied for registration to the Soviet authorities when we established the Catholic Committee on November 13,1978, and if they have not as yet done so, it is not our fault.
"My third alleged crime is that of inciting people to violate Soviet laws. Even the fact that large numbers of believers attended my trials in Vilkaviškis and Varėna is being held against me, but how can I be blamed if people respect their priest and are interested in his fate? Is it a crime for a Soviet citizen to attend a public trial? Blame, if you must, the atheists of Lithuania, who for thirty-five years have not managed to separate the priest from the faithful.
"Mr. Prosecutor, you threatened me with Article 68, Paragraph 1 of the LSSR Criminal Code, by which I could lose my freedom for up to seven years. Is there so little confidence in atheistic propaganda that you fear that singular priests might destroy that which the Lithuanian
atheists have been building for thrity-five years? Do the authorities of the Lithuanian SSR believe they can stop a nation's religious rebirth with a stick?
"At the Prosecutor's Office I was reminded that only bishops should be concerned with the affairs of the Church. I would like to repeat what I said then: Do not forget that the Lithuanian Catholic Church is not the Russian Orthodox Church, which the atheistic government can undermine with the help of subservient bishops and terrorizing the priests and the faithful. This will not happen in Lithuania because the Holy Father lives in Vatican City and not in Moscow, and the Catholic Church is a concern not only of the bishops but also of the priests and the laity.
Kybartai, September 6, 1979
Rev. Sigitas Tamkevičius
Member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of
N.B. Copies of this letter will be forwarded to the Lithuanian Ordinaries and to the editor of Tiesa (Truth)."
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The Chronicle considers this admonition from the Prosecutor of the Lithuanian SSR to be just another attempt by the Soviet government to blackmail members of the committee and all Lithuanian priests from contributing to the committee's work. The possibility exists that both of the above reprimanded priests will be arrested and convicted. All depends on the Kremlin's decision.
* * *
In many parishes throughout Lithuania the faithful are collecting signatures on petitions protesting the persecution of Fathers Svarinskas and Tamkevičius.