On October 17,1979, Father Jonas Kauneckas, while on duty at the sacristy of the Telšiai cathedral, was visited by an employee of the Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers, the leading atheist Pranas Mišutis. He questioned Father Kauneckas on whether or not this was his first assignment, for he had, it seemed, worked as a pastor in Viesvenai. Father Kauneckas explained that he had only ministered to the Viešvėnai parish.
After that, Mišutis explained that he himself had been an altar boy once. He had lost his faith because of bad priests, but he still had acquaintances among priests and maintained sincere relationships with them. He acknowledged that the Soviet government had made mistakes regarding the Church; that in Russia many Orthodox churches had needlessly been closed or demolished. He continued that many churches in Vilnius and Kaunas should probably not have been closed, but there were certainly enough churches at the present time. He pointed out that fewer churches were closed in Lithuania than elsewhere; Sniečkus (long-time Lithuanian Communist party leader — Tr.) had actually defended the churches; Lithuania's atheists are doing the same. And now, all the churches in Lithuania have been repaired and are heated, which was not true in the prewar years.
Following this, Mišutis began questioning Father Kauneckas about why he was not happy when most priests had cars and all lived well. What displeased the guest from Vilnius the most, he explained, was Father Kauneckas's criticizm of atheism and atheistic teaching. In his words, the quality of education was poor only because everyone, including children who were not very clever, were entitled to a secondary school education. Not everyone was qualified to study, he continued, and some of those who were unqualified even attempt to enroll in schools of higher learning. Misutis also declared that the sermon Father Kauneckas preached in Šiluva on August 15,1979, was the epitome of impudence because he, as an atheist, had been called a liar. (In his sermon at Šiluva, Father Kauneckas called Misutis a liar in his comments about Mišutis's book Religija, bažnyčia, ateizmas (Religion, the Church, atheism), because Mišutis claims in the book that barely 8 percent of the children received the Sacrament of Confirmation in Lithuania during the 1975-76 academic year. Father Kauneckas said that was a blatant lie: There are fifty to sixty thousand children born in Lithuania annually, and 8 percent would represent only five thousand. Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Telšiai alone, eleven thousand children in 1978 and eight thousand in 1979 received the Sacrament of Confirmation — and Lithuania has six dioceses. Mišutis wrote that only sixteen hundred persons attended the Church festival in Šiluva in 1977, but many times that number Holy Communion Hosts were distributed; for example, forty-eight thousand in 1979. Such lies are frequent in the book.)
Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Mišutis, a high-ranking official of the Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers, began to shout: "Father Kauneckas, you are Satan! You are Satan's priest! Don't you dare compare the activity of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights with the struggle of Father Antanas Mackevičius. You want to be martyrs for the faith, but nothing will come of that. You will be dealt with; you will be placed in the chair, and no one will know." Shouting these words, he ran out the door.
Some time later he returned and apologized for becoming unnerved, but he soon began to shout again, "Will the Vatican know about this conversation?" Father Kauneckas said he would tell people about this conversation, so that it was likely that it would reach the Holy See somehow. "Don't pretend. You are one of the Vatican's main informers. Know that our patience will come to an end someday. Think about it! If you reconsider, call me at the Council of Ministers or write. Otherwise you will be written up in the newspapers. I will write an article myself." Father Kauneckas laughed: "We thank you for the articles such as the one about Father Svarinskas in Tiesa (Truth). They only strengthen the people's faith. They can now distinguish between the truth and lies."
Mišutis's outburst was heard by the people who had gathered to pray in the cathedral at the time.
It is plain to see that Mišutis cannot control himself because on October 16 when he and Viešvėnai Township Chairman Bargaila inspected the church and the church buildings, remembering Father Kauneckas, he began to curse. Parish council member Savickis warned him: "Even though you are from the Council of Ministers, you are not allpwed to curse on church property."
On October 18, 1979, Mišutis visited the priests of Plungė and there, too, quarreled — with Father Alminas.
Varputėnai (Šiauliai Rayon)
The pastor of Varputėnai received the following letter (no. 115) on December 21, 1976, from the township:
"To: The priest of the Varputėnai church
"The Executive Committee of the Micaičiai Township Soviet requests that you complete the enclosed forms, no. 1 and no. 2 by January 1, 1977, and return them to the committee. When completing the forms please specify: 1) the content of sermons; 2) what is given the most attention during the sermons; 3) what is demanded of the believers.
"When completing form no. 1 also: 4) analyze the reasons for the increase or decrease in the rendering of religious services.
"Indicate separately: 5) how many people were present in church during the Christmas sermons and 6) the content of the sermon preached.
"When completing form no. 2, also: 7) comment on the reasons for the increase or decrease in revenues.
"Include membership lists of the parish council, the review and the executive committees, and information on the priest: surname, name, father's name, year of birth, the year that he completed the seminary.
(signed) Chairman of the Micaičiai Township Executive Committee"
During the night of August 25 to 26 of this year, unknown vandals broke the hands of Mary's statue in the Lourdes Grotto, which had remained untouched during the war. Several years earlier someone had torn away the rosary, and now someone had dared to damage the statue itself.
The Lourdes Grotto has been the center of the cemetery since 1932. It adorned the cemetery and gave joy to the people of Kupiškis. Now, to the great sorrow of the faithful, it has been defiled by some evildoers.
Upon learning of this incident, the faithful were deeply shaken. They hurried to the cemetery and placed flowers at Mary's feet. The grotto has never seen so many flowers before.
Kirdeikiai (Utena Rayon)
On October 17 of this year at 11:20 a.m., Chairman Šapranauskas of Saldutiškis Township came to the pastor of Kirdeikiai, Father Petras Kražauskas, and informed him that at 12 o'clock the head of the Utena Rayon Department of Finance was arriving to conduct an audit of the church. Therefore, the pastor must open the church.
At noon Chairman Šapranauskas arrived with the head of the Department of Finance and two members of the parish council, whose members had been chosen by atheists — Anupras Kirka and Juozas Kindurys — (the other members of this council did not come). The pastor let the chairman and the head of the Department of Finance into the church, but he told the members of the atheistic council to wait outside. The township chairman stated they did not wish to disturb the pastor; he only had to open the church doors. The pastor then asked: "And do you have authorization to search the church?"
"And what authorization do we need?" the chairman asked in surprise. "The council itself wishes to check the resources of thechurch; we are merely acting as intermediaries." Father Kražauskas then said: "First of all, you do not have permission to do an examination. Second, you informed me about what you intended to do only half an hour ago, and I cannot summon the parish council." Chairman Šapranauskas pointed out that the parish council was present. The pastor continued: "This is not the parish council, but one you, the atheists, formed yourselves. When you, Mr. Chairman, are the pastor of Kirdeikiai and Rayon Executive Committee Vice Chairman Labanauskas becomes the bishop, you can rule the church with your council. Third, you are probably aware that over five hundred priests signed a letter last year refusing to observe the atheistic laws which contradict the rights of the church. Fourth, you, Mr. Chairman, probably know the Constitution declares that the state cannot interfere in internal Church matters; therefore, please be kind enough to do as it states. The above reasons prevent me from allowing you to conduct an audit. Furthermore, the parish council already took inventory on September 1 of this year."
So ended the attempt to "audit" church property.
Kapčiamiestis (Lazdijai Rayon)
On the evening of October 12, 1979, atheists righted the crosses someone had turned over at the old Kapčiamiestis cemetery. The work was done under the direction of Kapčiamiestis Township Chairman Stasys Sabalius; party members Stankevičius, Juodeška, and others performed the actual work.
It is a clear victory for the faithful now that the Soviet government is beginning to order its own officials to restore crosses overturned by atheists.
In 1977 the Executive Committee of Lazdijai Rayon began to demand that the Kapčiamiestis Parish Council sign an antichurch "contract" drawn up by the Soviet authorities. The council delayed. Then, at the urging of the rayon authorities, the Dean of Lazdijai, Father Vaclovas Strimaitis, requested the pastor ot Kapčiamiestis, Father Ignas Plioraitis, to take the initiative and to speed up the drawing of the contract. The dean argued that this was a good and important thing. No one listened to the dean's request because it was motivated by the atheistic government and not by the Church. Rayon Executive Committee Vice Chairman Vanagas many times personally urged the pastor and the parish council to sign the contract quickly, but there was no progress. They continued to stall. On March 31,1978, again the Dean of Lazdijai telephoned, not only urging that the question of the "contract" be settled, but also offering to accompany Father Plioraitis to the rayon executive committee headquarters so that he could apologize to the government for the trouble the believers had caused. Now, that is "diligence"!
On May 24, 1978, Religious Affairs Commissioner Tumėnas himself visited Kapčiamiestis and urged the pastor to help arrange for the signing of the"contract." The commissioner threatened politely, saying that without the contract the church could be closed and that the local government on its own initiative could summon the local people and make a contract with them.
On April 16, 1979, Dean Strimaitis of Lazdijai again inquired of the pastor of Kapčiamiestis about the parish council and whether it had been endorsed by the government.
In May Rayon Vice Chairman Vanagas summoned certain Kapčiamiestis believers and tried to persuade them to sign the "contract."
On September 4, 1979, Dean Strimaitis admonished Father Plioraitis: "Your parish is still in disarray; you haven't signed the contract, you haven't collected the signatures of the twenty council members. You see," he said, "Rayon Vice Chairman Vanagas is constantly pressuring me. You must settle things as quickly as possible. Go to Vanagas, speak with him, apologize for any misunderstandings and promise to finish things quickly. You shouldn't expect any leniency from the government!"
In September 1979 Lazdijai Rayon Vice Chairman Vanagas called together the priests of the rayon and talked to them about rayon economics and then mentioned that Fathers Zdebskis and Plioraitis had not yet called together their councils of twenty and had not yet signed the contracts. He told the priests that they violated Soviet law by permitting children to serve at mass and participate in processions.
On October 4, 1979, Vice Chairman Vanagas summoned all the rayon parish councils to the rayon executive committee headquarters and presented them with the following demands:
—only the council may collect money from the faithful
—children are not permitted near the altar
—priests may not make official visits to parishioners
—children may not be taught the faith
—they are to inform the rayon authorities of any religious festivals and retreats and which priests were participating.
The Vice Chairman's comments prompted the people to voice their opposition. Vanagas shouted heatedly: "Stop talking!"
Vanagas once again reproached the people from Kapčiamiestis for not having taken a written inventory of the church and for not signing the contract. He claimed that Kapčiamiestis never asked permission for religious festivals. He expressed surprise at the attitude of the Kapčiamiestis parishioners, saying, "When someone overturned two monuments at the old cemetery, there were soon numerous signatures and even a statement was sent to the ministry. But when contract forms must be completed and signed by twenty individuals, there is no one to do it!"
On October 18,1979, Father Plioraitis was summoned to rayon headquarters. Vanagas urged him to quickly complete the "contract" and to report on all religious festivals taking place. He reproached Father Plioraitis for having blessed a cross erected in June near Paveisninkai without governmental permission. Father Plioraitis replied that during the era of Soviet rule no one has ever heard of such permission being granted.
In Vanagas's opinion, the current situation of the Church is sound. Nearly all of the priests and believers are contented; only one or two are "hotheads," but they will be trampled down by the other priests and the faithful themselves, and there will be order.
On September 18, 1978, at 11 p.m. someone broke into the church at Kučiūnai. At midnight, when the pastor became aware of someone walking above him and summoned neighbors by telephone, about thirty people surrounded the church. The police pulled two culprits from the attic. They were Communist Youth League members Kestas Kočiūnas, the son of the township chairman, and Rimas Sirutis. They claimed to be looking in the church cellar for "bandits' weapons and radio transmitters."
The first trial session was held on December 15,1978. The case was so clearly ill-prepared that the judge was forced to postpone it.
The second trial session was held on March 21 in Druskininkai. The judge was Burokas; about three hundred persons attended. It became clear during the trial that the original testimony of the suspects, the first police reports, and the records of the interrogation of certain witnesses had disappeared. The case documents included many corrections. The trial had to be postponed once again.
On May 29, 1979, the third trial session was held in Druskininkai. The court gave Rimas Sirutis a sentence of one and one-half years to be carried out in the building trade and sentenced Kęstas Kočiūnas to one and one-half years in a strict regime labor camp. The damaged church articles were valued by the government at 40 rubles, and the trial failed to address this question. Actually about 500 rubles' worth of damage was done to the church.
This is how "Soviet justice" punishes Communist Youth League members. This case can be compared to those of Catholics tried for involvement in the underground press; their records do not "disappear" and "mice" never damage their case files.
Žalioji (Vilkaviškis Rayon)
On October 24, 1979, Vice Chairman Urbonas of the Vilkaviškis Rayon Executive Committee warned [Mrs.] Kazimiera Bubnaitienė that religious services were no longer to be held at the Žalioji parochial cemetery. If services were held, Bubnaitienė would be handed over to the appropriate authorities. The woman firmly held her own: "Return our church to us, and we will not pray in the cemetery!"
On November 17,1979, the people of Prienai once again erected a cross on Kvietenis Hill with the inscription "Only through love and sacrifice will the nation be saved." On the evening of December 4, atheists under the leadership of Prienai City Executive Committee Chairman Kučinskas pulled down the cross and removed it.