Substantial changes have occurred in the life of the Lithuanian Catholic Church during the past decade. If under the repressions of Stalin and Khrushchev the prevalent mood among most priests was passiveness and helplessness (It used to be said: "You can't knock down a wall with your head"), this has disappeared during the last several years. The positive reorientation of priests was greatly influenced by the Russian dissidents who displayed much willingness to sacrifice and much determination in their battle against lies and coercion and for basic human rights. Also, influential were the Polish clergy, with Cardinal Wyszynski in the forefront, who have fought so energetically for full religious freedom in their country. The priests and the believers of Lithuania have long ago come to understand the truth expressed so beautifully by Pope John Paul II when he said that the faithful will have as much religious freedom as they themselves manage to win. In fact, the decade-long struggle has not been without results. The theological seminary quota was quadrupled (from five to twenty candidates per year); after forty years of Soviet rule Catholics this year are finally seeing the first catechism published; despite the government's warnings, nearly all parishes publicly instruct children, have schoolchildren participate in processions, serve at mass, etc. It is obvious to everyone in Lithuania that the Soviet government has, at least for the time being, retreated in certain areas, not as a result of any "diplomatic steps" taken by priests who are government collaborators but because the faithful and the priests are persistently demanding their rights and many have even sacrificed their own freedom; for example, Father Antanas Šeškevičius (for instructing children), Petras Plumpa (for religious literature), [Miss] Nijolė Sadūnaitė (for duplicating the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania), and others.
It is possible to "negotiate" something from the Soviet government only when it begins to fear the believing community. But when the faithful are passive and unaware, then there is fertile ground for the tyranny of state atheism to flourish; for example, hardly any young people attend the churches of Latvia and for the past three years the Riga Theological Seminary has been allowed to admit only non-Latvian candidates. Lithuania's religious rebirth has worried the higher Soviet authorities for quite some time. This year especially efforts have been made to discredit priests. Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis has labored feverishly through the press, television, and in his talks with the clergy and the deans to indicate that active priests are "extremists," "disrupters of unity," "politicians," "slanderers of the Soviet system," and deserving of punishment.
A priest who instructs children, is, from the Soviet government's point of view, an "extremist"; one who asks freedom for the church, a "politician"; one who criticizes the arbitrariness of atheism, a "slanderer of the Soviet system" who belongs behind bars. According to the logic of Soviet propagandists, a "good priest" is one who, quaking and acting against his conscience, follows the anti-Church Regulations for Religious Associations, defends the model of Soviet peace in Berlin, grants interviews on the so-called freedom of the Church in Lithuania, or is so passive that his entire ministry amounts to "burying the dead." Soviet officials consider all other priests to be detestable "extremists."
The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania plays a special role in Lithuania's religious rebirth. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is persecuted and ridiculed the most. Because the Chronicle has become even more well-known due to the attacks of Soviet government officials, this thankless mission has been entrusted to priests — KGB collaborators — who argue that the Chronicle is not always objective, that it is sometimes used to "settle accounts" with priests, that the Chronicle is guilty of publicly condemning the collaboration of certain priests with the KGB, of pointing out state security activity in the theological seminary, of disrupting the unity of priests, and of damaging the Ordinaries' authority. There are some who would wish that the Chronicle not see obvious facts and remain silent when crimes deserving of divine punishment are committed. What can be more heinous than a priest who almost openly collaborates with the archenemy of the Church, the KGB! In fact, the Chronicle has not hurt the theological seminary but in certain respects has actually helped it. This year more applicants than ever before were admitted to the seminary: over forty. Furthermore, all those who enter the seminary are now aware that they will be confronted by the KGB, that attempts will be made to recruit them as state security agents, etc.
The Chronicle is much more concerned with upholding the authority of the Ordinaries than the KGB collaborators are. That is why it exists; to keep the KGB from corrupting what is still sound in the Church hierarchy, to prevent a current repetition of the mistakes made over several postwar decades — for at times Soviet government officials have no qualms about sending high Church officials to Vatican City for the purpose of damaging the Church and helping the Soviet government
In 1940 Lithuania's bishops and priests assumed an appropriate position regarding state atheism. The unity of the priests was destroyed when the KGB placed innocent bishops and priests in prison while recruiting others to be their agents; at least twenty-five years have passed since that time and the appearance of the Chronicle. It is, therefore, not at fault if today a priest loyal to the Church sometimes finds no common ground with a colleague whom the KGB has corrupted. Nonetheless, if in 1979 two Lithuanian bishops and 522 priests resolutely protested the inhumane Regulations for Religious Associations, history will first thank, above all, the Chronicle and those who awoke the spirit of priests and believers alike for this resultant unity among priests.
The Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania does not want to discredit or condemn anyone, but in attempting to destroy the snares of the KGB there is, at present, no other way but public exposure! "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, that his deeds may not be exposed" (Jn 3:20). Whom would the Chronicleserve, the Church or the KGB, if when clearly seeing the existing traps, it did not attempt to destroy the web within which the Communist party and the KGB plan to destroy the Church from within and smother any sort of religious life? What good would the Chroniclebe if it only reported offenses committed against the Nation and the Church by teachers and officials? Who is the greater criminal, the teacher who leads thirty students astray in class or a cassock-clad churchman who defends Soviet peace-lies in Berlin and thus misleads the entire world? Who is more guilty, a drunken worker who brings a complaint to the KGB or a priest bearing the name of Christ's soldier?
This year Religious Affairs Commissioner Petras Anilionis stated the following to the deans who had been summoned by the Kaunas Executive Committee: "I spoke with the bishop and he said that the pope urges the priests of Lithuania to maintain unity." Anilionis and those like him want to convince people that the greatest destroyers of Church unity are the "extremist" priests, and that the Soviet government, like the pope, yearns for unity among priests and in the Church.
With regard to questions of Christian doctrine, the priests of many Catholic countries could envy the unity of Lithuanian priests. They displayed their unity in 1979 when they unanimously protested against the Regulations for Religious Associations; the protest was signed by 522 priests and two bishops. Only a small number of priests did not sign, some out of fear, others because they were KGB collaborators or for other reasons. There is a lack of unity in certain areas, however.
The KGB continually devises plans to effectively undermine the unity of Lithuania's priests. Seminarians and priests are recruited to become KGB agents. Attempts are made to assign recruited priests to the largest parishes; they are allowed to travel abroad, etc. Wanting to undermine the confidence of priests, and confuse them so that collaborator-priests would not be discovered, state security organs sometimes allow the bishop to assign a zealous priest to a large parish or allow an occasional good priest to go abroad. In an effort to create as much darkness and confusion as possible, the KGB, via its collaborators, submits false information to the Holy See through letters and other means. Therefore, when we talk about the destroyers of priestly unity, we must first look to the State Security Committee (KGB) and only then seek secondary reasons.
In executing this divisive work, the KGB, through its collaborators (officials, churchmen, and other individuals), constantly talks about the "unity" situation. It seeks the unity of priests with the Communist party, with Lenin, with the KGB. On the lips of state atheism officials the word unity, like the word peace, has a specific meaning. The Soviet government only needs such "unity" and "peace" which would help it to seize control of everything. What does not suit it is destroyed.
Priests who have totally or partially capitulated to the KGB begin, sometimes perhaps unconsciously, to use Soviet terminology; for instance, they say, "The Chronicle disrupts priestly unity," or "the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights seeks fame," etc.
How should we understand the true unity of Lithuania's priests? It is unconditional loyalty to Christ, the Church, and the pope. Unity demands that the Ordinaries consult priests, not just Soviet officials, on Church matters, that priests know more about internal Church problems and plans than does the KGB, that all priests, not only 70-80 percent of them, fight for the freedom of belief, as shown by the Polish Cardinal Wyszynski's example. Unity demands that priests who have erred and become security police collaborators immediately and publicly break off their shameful association, and if they do not, they must know that not even Christ Himself required the Apostles to maintain unity with Judas and the Pharisees.
Unity is to be pursued only among priests of good will who are concerned about Church matters even if they do not always agree on the method of action. Here, without a doubt, it is necessary to recognize and respect those who see things differently. We wish to stress, however, that KGB collaborators also claim that they have good intentions and call their association with the KGB "other tactics." Therefore, the only ones capable of judging priests properly are those who are continually exposed to their lives and actions. Westerners who spend several weeks in their company can easily be mistaken.
We are convinced that the Holy See will understand why complete unity among priests does not exist in Lithuania and why the Holy See receives so much contradictory information.
It is essential to the survival of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, which is struggling for her freedom, to have contacts with the West without the KGB's knowledge. If it were not for these contacts, if objective information about the situation of the Church were not to reach the free world, the battle would be ten times more difficult, for the brutal force of state atheism would not fear that its actions would someday be made public. It is a shame that contacts with the West have been considerably weakened this year. The KGB has liquidated many good people in Moscow and elsewhere. Lithuania was visited by few foreign tourists who were interested not only in seeing Gediminas's Fort but also in returning with information regarding the true situation of the Church.
The least desirable situation is one in which priests from Lithuania travel to foreign countries. Why? Because the KGB allows mostly priests who are collaborators to travel to so-called capitalist countries. Occasionally they allow a good priest to travel, in the hope of gaining indirect benefits; for example, creating distrust among priests, undermining a priest's authority, etc. Contacts with the West such as those by the priests from Lithuania who travelled to the Berlin "peace" conferences are completely detrimental to the Church. The KGB chooses these delegations of priests through the Religious Affairs Council without any input from the chanceries. Since the majority of priests sent to "peace" conferences are KGB collaborators, what Church problems can westerners possibly discuss with them?
The most desirable tourists are priests and laymen from the West. After arriving in Lithuania, they should not gather information on the situation of the Church from chance sources but should make an effort to find reliable information. Up to now, priests from abroad (Poland, the U.S., etc.) have often taken the KGB bait and collected information on the Lithuanian Catholic Church by associating with priests who were KGB collaborators.
During 1979 priests councils, which according to the decision of the Second Vatican Council may function in every diocese, began to form in Lithuania. Priests listened eagerly to several Vatican Radio broadcasts which explained the role of these councils. Religious Affairs Commissioner Anilionis warned Lithuania's Ordinaries to be careful with such councils and later began to hint that priests councils were being organized by extremist priests. This year Commissioner Anilionis informed the deans of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and the Diocese of Vilkaviškis that Bishop Povilonis has told him that, in the pope's opinion, the councils are unnecessary in Lithuania.
Why does the Soviet government not want them?
The answer becomes apparent when we probe how the government attempts to administer the Church. The Religious Affairs Commissioner interferes in all internal Church affairs; he does not allow bishops to transfer priests freely, to admit candidates to the seminary, to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation, etc. All this interference is concealed by the Soviet government so that it would appear that the Ordinaries independently administer their dioceses. With the existence of priests councils, the bishop or diocesan administrator could more easily resist this pressure. He could say, "I must transfer this priest because the council demands it"; or "I must administer the Sacrament of Confirmation in 'such-and-such' a parish because the priests council maintains that it is a necessary ministry." The Religious Affairs Commissioner would often find it impossible to resist because if he did, everyone would clearly see that it is he who administers the Church. Therefore, the councils are vitally important; everything that is performed in secret would be forced into the open.
It is still unclear whether the Holy See actually did state that priests councils are unnecessary in Lithuania since this information has reached the priests through the Religious Affairs Commissioner. If the Holy See had truly made such a statement, it remains to determine who served the KGB by convincing the Holy See that what is "most beneficial" for the Church in Lithuania is what the state security agencies desire.
Religious Affairs Commissioner Anilionis and other Soviet propagandists charge that active priests are involved in politics; they remind everyone that even the Holy Father has forbidden priests such involvement. Government officials consider the teaching of catechism to children, the criticism of atheism, the writing of petitions to the government asking, for example, the return of a confiscated church, etc., to be "politics."
Is it politics? Yes, it is Church politics. It is the priest's sacred duty to defend the Church and human rights and to forbid him to do so is a violation of a natural law. The Church condones and is involved in such "politics." Pope John Paul II is the best example of such "politics" in action.
It is unfortunate that certain priests, nuns, and Catholic laymen have adopted the Soviet definition of "politics" forged in the offices of the KGB. For example, a nun is afraid to take the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania into her hands; that is politics! A priest is afraid to urge parents through his sermons to bring their children to church — politics! It is forbidden to listen to Vatican Radio broadcasts in the seminary — politics! A vicar is afraid to say the rosary with the children — politics! We must be vigilant against state security propagandists swaying believers with their terminology.
It is inappropriate for Catholic priests and laymen to interfere in Soviet politics; for example, to go to Berlin "peace" conferences, to collaborate with state security organs, etc. The Church certainly does not hold with such politics but considers it a sin and a violation of Church discipline.
The 1980 Olympics will not be forgotten by the dissidents in the Soviet Union. It spurred the Soviet government to resort to Stalinist repression to prevent Western visitors to Moscow from meeting a single dissident, from hearing a single word of criticism against the lies and the coercion. The repressive measures even reached Lithuania; it is anticipated that they will reach the priests as well. Is it worth fearing them? During the postwar years Lithuanian priests withstood two waves of repression, 1945-53 and 1957-58. They will be able to withstand a third as well. It would be very unreasonable to expect to gain freedom for the Church without sacrifices. If priests were arrested, the world would better understand the "full freedom of religion" provided by communism (the collaboration of Catholics with communists in certain countries shows that the face of communism is not recognized even from up close), and the sacrifice of those who suffer in labor camps will rouse our fellow countrymen to fight not only for the freedom of belief but, in addition, to throw off the yoke of tyranny. History teaches that whenever the faithful were unafraid to suffer, the Church blossomed, and, in contrast, whenever the spirit of sacrifice faded in God's nations, they experienced a crisis. Therefore, we should only fear such a situation in Lithuania where no one would have the courage to suffer for God and the Church. That would be a real tragedy.
With God's help and grace, Lithuania's priests and faithful are full of Christian resolve to face the future, whatever it may be.