On May 17, 1983, the Deans and Vice-deans of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and the Diocese of Vilkaviškis were summoned to the Kaunas Archdiocesan Chancery to listen to instructions from Petras Anilio-nis, Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs.
The commissioner's talk centered around petitions sent between July and October of the past year (1983) to the Soviet government by priests of Lithuania. An appropriate official from the Moscow Council of Religious Affairs had come to Lithuania in February to consider the petitions. Here he met with the bishops of Lithuania, visited the seminary and delegated Petras Anilionis to meet with the deans.
Since the demands of the petitions sent from the various dioceses of Lithuania were similar, Anilionis came to the conclusion and affirmed that they had been inspired from some central source. At the beginning of the meeting, the commissioner cited Par. 50 of the Soviet Constitution, where it is written that citizens of the LSSR are guaranteed freedom of conscience to profess any religion, or not to profess any; to carry out religious cult or to conduct atheistic propaganda.
Anilionis went out of his way to make the point that since clergy and believers are allowed to perform religious rites, they should keep quiet when ideological professionals carry on atheistic propaganda, since otherwise, in the words of the commissioner, the atheists' freedom of conscience would be infringed upon.
Someone has said, "The wolf is allowed to slaughter the sheep, but the sheep being slaughtered is not allowed even to bleat." The Soviet Constitution, the 'most democratic' in the world, puts this principle into practice, guaranteeing freedom for atheistic propaganda and giving atheists the right to destroy religion with all the most modern means, while believers who constitute the majority of the inhabitants of Lithuania are left the right to suffer in silence.
Anilionis berated the assembled deans for what he considered the unsuitable tone used in the petition, capable of insulting such important activists of the Communist Party Central Committee as Petras Griškevičius, L. Šepetys and himself, the Commissioner of the Council for Religious Affairs. In his talk, he kept repeating, "Don't provoke! Don't confront! You'll gain nothing by force!"
Anilionis was annoyed at the idea expressed by the Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, No. 54, that, "Lithuania needs bishops who would be able to go with the believing nation to prison, to labor camp and even to death — not the kind who would check the spiritual rebirth which has begun from below." Anilionis called the September 2, 1982 petition from the Priests' Council of the Archdiocese of Vilnius to the bishops an outburst of intransigent hatred. You see, the petition states that, "Kowtowing to the atheist government is a great injustice to the Church."
Anilionis went on to discuss the following sentence in the priests' petition: "We have no right to hand over the administration of dioceses and parishes to committees organized by the civil government." Here the commissioner declared that in the Socialist system, churches, their property, artistic and cultural treasures, have become state property, so their owner is the state. It determines conditions under which believers can make use of their state property for purposes of cult.
He named the fourteen parishes in the Archdiocese of Kaunas and two in the Diocese of Vilkaviškis which are postponing the signing of contracts with the state, and he threatened that they could bring on themselves considerable unpleasantness. In his talk he cited the following sentence from the priests' petition: "We are obliged to proclaim the gospel by preaching and by catechizing."
Anilionis attacked especially those churches where political prisoners, back from their places of imprisonment, were honored, and where they were allowed to speak to the assembled faithful. The commissioner also reminded them of the Criminal Code paragraph which indicates that only parents are allowed to catechize their children. He advised parents to obtain the catechism published in 1980, and to use it in teaching their children. "This is not Africa or Latin America, where people are ignorant; among us, everybody knows how to read," said the commissioner, "a priest may only test the child's knowledge and get rid of those who do not know their catechism."
He reminded them that each year, about fifty thousand children are admitted to First Confession and Communion, only he did not say where parents today might obtain catechisms published three years ago, and available for only a week or two.
In the priests' petition, it says that the priest is obliged to administer the sacraments, not just within the boundaries of the parish he serves, but in case of necessity, to minister to the sick and dying anywhere. In connection with this question, Anilionis stated that under any government, the priest is never assigned for the whole country, but only to a limited territory. A dying person may be ministered to anywhere, affirmed Anilionis, but he emphasized that no one will allow a priest to travel around other parishes with anti-Soviet sermons, to organize rallies and to proclaim anarchy . . .
For several decades now, the Catholic Church in Lithuania has been suffering painfully on account of the atheist government's interference in the Kaunas Theological Seminary, so the request and demand in the priests' petition to abolish the obstacles and quota established by the civil government, and to allow the bishops themselves to accept applicants to the seminary and to appoint their professors is understandable to everyone.
Anilionis admitted the fact that there is a shortage of priests in Lithuania, and that presently 139 prishes have no pastor, but at the same time, he demagogically affirmed that the quota is necessary since admission to every higher institution of learning and to special preparatory schools is limited, so it is not fitting to make exception for the seminary alone. He recalled the Declaration of the Vice Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic that the quota would not be increased as long as the underground seminary is operating in the republic (as though it were not obvious that with the abolition of the quota, the underground preparation of priests would automatically disappear).
Anilionis in his speech faulted pastors who write recommendations to the seminary for young men who have already called attention to themselves by anti-Sovietactivity. (The commissioner considers as such all those who dare to practice their faith openly, participate actively in Church life and with whom the KGB is unable to find a common language.)
Anilionis claimed that his office does not appoint priests or seminary professors — it only issues certificates of registration. Here again, he blamed extremist priests for interfering in everything, and for even trying to convince the bishops to make clergy appointments according to the extremists' wishes, when it is clear to everyone the bishops cannot appoint any priests, even an ordinary associate pastor to a parish, nor transfer him.
During the meeting, Anilionis explained that priests are forbidden to visit parishioners (the annual formal visitation — kalėdoji-mas), and gave the following reason for the ban:
1.Sometimes in the same dwelling with believing members of a family, non-believers also live; thus it is essential to protect the non-believers' freedom of conscience.
2.The law forbids collecting of offerings in the homes, and when the priest goes around visiting believers, no one will be able to determine whether offerings were taken.
3.In the course of the visitation, the priest performs liturgical rites, but rites may be carried out only in church, in the cemegery and and while ministering to the sick. (This means that non-believers may invite to their home whom they wish, when they wish, but the faithful are not allowed to invite a priest even once a year to bless their domicile.)
Anilionis complained: "Someone is erecting crosses on the graves of bandits (Freedom-fighters killed after World War II — Ed. Note), and later causing a row over their dismantling. Moreover, he emphasized, that land is a possession of the state, hence, erection of crosses without government permission is not allowed.
The commissioner thus never did explain why atheists in Lithuania have destroyed thousands of crosses, wayside shrines and other monuments of folk art which have not stood on the graves of freedom-fighters. To the priests' request in the petition to be allowed to celebrate solemnly the 500 year jubilee of Saint Casimir, Anilionis responded with the accusation that there are priests who do not participate in elections. He reported that the government will not return the confiscated church in Klaipėda, but may give permission to erect another church and to remodel the present little church.
The commisioner faulted Bishop Steponavičius for not wishing to go to Kaišiadorys, but instead, taking the advice of poor advisors. He only wished to remain a martyr.
He mentioned that in government funeral parlors, the law forbids the carrying out of religious ceremonies.
In summing up, Anilionis declared that the state does not accomodate its laws to Canon Law.
Finally, the commissioner emphasized that lately, in all areas, adherence to the law will be more strictly required, hence monitoring of compliance with laws regarding religious cults will be stepped up.
From left to right: Bishop Antanas Vaičius, Bishop Liudvikas Povilonis, Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, entering the Cathedral of Kaišiadorys during the re-instatement of Bishop Sladkevičius.
To: Bishop Liudvikas Povilonis, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Kaunas and of the Diocese of Vilkaviškis
Bishop Julijonas Steponavičius, Apostolic Administrator of the Archiocese of Vilnius
Bishop Vincentas Sladkevičius, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Kaišiadorys
Bishop Antanas Vaičius, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Telšiai
Monsignor Kazys Dulksnys, Administrator of the Diocese of Panevėžys
Reverend Antanas Gutauskas, Administrator of the Archdiocese of Vilnius
From: The Youth of Lithuania
On May 7, 1983, in Vilnius, the Supreme Court of the Lithuanian SSR sentenced the Pastor of Viduklė and member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, to seven years incarceration, sentence to be carried out in a strict regime camp and three years of exile. After sentence was pronounced, the Pastor of Kybartai and member of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, was arrested in the same courtroom.
These events deeply effected not only us, the youth of Lithuania, but also the faithful. It is painful that the noblest sons of Lithuania and of the Catholic Church become victims of the atheists' arbitrariness, but it is immeasurably more painful when those who should be crying out to the entire world keep quiet.
We admire some bishops. In Poland, they have dared to tell the truth and to demand from the civil government that it not offend the religious feelings of the Polish nation. Cardinal Wysczinski once said, "The time has come to say a categorical "No!' to the source of evil — atheism — and to all that is incompatible with the spirit of Christ."
We are happy to hear about the good shepherds of other nations, where the situation of the faithful is no better than that in Lithuania. Their bishops do not keep shamefully silent, but cry out, refusing to compromise with injustice. For example, not long ago, Bishop Trochta of Czechoslovakia died, after spending his whole life in prison; the Czech Cardinal Beran — a former inmate of the Dachau Concentration Camp and an exile today; Cardinal Stepinac — prisoner and exile; Cardinal Slipyj, who spent over twenty years in prison and now lives far from his archdiocese.
They were not enemies of the nation or the state. They are not hirelings, but good shepherds, who defended the Catholic Church, the most sacred rights of their flocks and zealously nurtured the Christian spirit of their fellow countrymen. Honor to them! They are the pride of the Catholic Church and the honor of their nation.
Happiness flooded the hearts of all the faithful in Lithuania when in November, 1978, the Catholic Committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights was established. At that time, it consisted of five priests: Father Alfonsas Svarinskas, Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, Father Jonas Kauneckas, Father Juozas Zdebskis and Father Vincas Velavičius.
To date, this committee has broken new ground in the spiritual renewal of Lithuania. Its activity was neither anti-Constitutional nor anti-state, but purely religious. It criticized (a right granted by Par. 49 of the USSR Constitution) the activities of state organs which restrict religious freedom; it sought that religious freedom would have the same rights as atheistic propaganda has; that the faithful of Lithuania could freely discharge the religious duties required of them by the Catholic Church. They explained the rights of believers regardless of whether this displeased anyone.
To remain silent today, when the Soviet press tries to show that the faithful of Lithuania enjoy full freedom of religion, is a crime. Such claims by the press are an insult to the Catholic Church and to the faithful. Is it religious freedom when the Kaunas Theological Seminary is in the hands, not of the bishops, but of the atheists? The result is a growing shortage of priests. The atheists wish to wreck the Silent Church of Lithuania from within! Is it freedom of religion if bishops cannot confer the Sacrament of Confirmation when and where they wish, not transfer a priest to another parish without the approval of the Commissioner for Religious Affairs? As a result, large parishes, especially in the cities, are often served, by priests who are not shepherds, but hirelings.
Is it religious freedom if the priests' first duty flowing from their vocation and the mission of Christ is to teach, but they are not allowed to prepare children for First Confession and Communion? For that, priests are punished with prison and other administrative penalties. Our liturgical directory specifies that on All Souls' Day there be processions in the cemeteries, and Canon Law requires that priests visit their parishioners, but for doing so, priests are given administrative penalties.
In spite of the freedom of conscience and of religion proclaimed in the Soviet press, on July 26, 1976, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania promulgated "The Regulations for Religious Associations" which are diametrically opposed to the structure of the Catholic Church, its spirit and to the priestly mission.
Is it religious freedom if it can be enjoyed only by ordinary people but not by believing intellectuals? How can they perform religious practices openly if for doing so, they lose their posts? But the USSR Constitution proclaims the equality of all citizens, regardless of racial, national or religious differences! According to statistics, in 1977, in Lithuania there were over thirty thousand elementary school teachers alone, to say nothing of instructors and professors in professional schools, vocational schools and institutions of higher learning. Are they all atheists?
It is this brand of "freedom" of conscience and religion of which the Catholic 'committee for the Defense of Believers' Rights spoke and wrote. The courageous outspokenness of the committee members displeased the civil government: The Soviet press writes publicly that in Lithuania, complete freedom of belief and religion flourishes, but the aforesaid committee dragged out into the light of day the true attitude of the Soviet government with regard to religion. Therefore, Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius, for lack of any real crimes, were accused of unrounded charges: anti-Constitutional and anti-Soviet activities. These honorable priests have been given a heavy sentence of labor camp and exile, and are being maligned in the press.
We, the youth of Lithuania, your honorable Excellencies, eagerly await your bold word and example — concrete action. We ask you in the name of the Catholic Church and the Lithuanian nation: "Speak now, while the nation's best sons are being torn from her body. Speak according to the example of Bishop Valančius, Bishop Baranauskas, Bishop Giedraitis, the Servant of God Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, Archbishop Matulionis and the martyr-bishops Reinys, Borisevičius and Ramanauskas."
We ask you to proclaim throughout Lithuania, a day of prayer for our nation's heroes: Father Alfonsas Svarinskas and Father Sigitas Tamkevičius. We ask you to petition agencies of the civil government, requesting that the aforesaid priests be freed. We ask you to arrange that trials of priests might be attended by all priests, or at least by their representatives; after all the priest on trial is a member of the diocesan family.
It is not we alone who ask this; this is required of you also by the Decree of Vatican Council II, "Christus Dominus", where it is stated: "Above all, let them be united themselves in brotherly affection with those spiritual leaders who, for the sake of Christ, are HARASSED BY FALSE ACCUSATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS, DETAINED IN PRISON (emphasis ours) or prevented from exercising their ministry. They should take an active fraternal interest in them, so that their sufferings may be assuaged and alleviated through the prayers and good works of their confreres." (Decrees of Vatican Council II, Vilnius, 1968, p. 205).
NOTE: Deeply revered shepherds, we appeal to all of you with equal sincerity, love and hope, even though we have but one copy of the text with signatures, which we will send to Bishop Povilonis. We trust that you understand how difficult it is to collect signatures on five copies simultaneously. Hence, we ask you to consider all five copies of this petition as carrying signatures.
Lithuania, May, 1983
Note: 449 signatures were collected.