Volume 26, No.1 - Spring 1980
Editor of this issue: Thomas Remeikis
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1980 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.




The enactment of the Decree on Religious Societies in 1976 and the efforts of implementation by the Soviet authorities produced a wave of protests among the Lithuanian Catholics. The first major criticism against the Decree was launched by the Catholic Committee for Defense of the Rights of Believers, a Lithuanian counterpart of the Christian Committee for Defense of the Rights of Believers in the USSR. The criticism of the Catholic Committee of serious restrictions on religious activities of the Church contained in the Decree was backed by protests, which were signed by about 70% of the Catholic clergy in Lithuania. The widespread protests indicated that if the Soviet regime sought to enforce the Decree rigidly, it would have a serious confrontation on its hands. The text of Document No. 5 of the Catholic Committee here published is taken from the undergound journal Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania, No. 37 (March 4, 1979). For an English translation of the Decree on Religious Societies, see V. Stnaley Vardys, The Catholic Church, Dissent and Nationality in Soviet Lithuania (New York, 7978), pp. 244-254.




The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R.
The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R.
The Bishops and Diocesan Administrators of Lithuania
Petras Anilionis, the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs

Thirty years ago, on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the U.N. passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Soviet Union signed, obligating itself to implement it conscientiously. The Soviet press even affirms that the new constitution of the U.S.S.R. guarantees significantly more rights and freedoms than those foreseen in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Catholics of Lithuania, having undergone various forms of discrimination during the postwar years, hoped that on the solemn jubilee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Soviet government would grant them at least a little more rights and freedoms, but things have gone just the opposite. On November 24, 1978, Representative Petras Anilionis of the Council for Religious Affairs summoned to Vilnius all the bishops and diocesan administrators of Lithuania and sternly emphasized that thenceforth they would have to adhere completely to the Decree on Religious Societies, ratified July 28, 1976, by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R., and that those who did not would be severely punished.

The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R., in ratifying the Decree on Religious Societies should first of all have considered the fact that the Catholic Church not only has a six hundred year history in Lithuania and a host of undeniable benefits to Lithuania, such as the University of Vilnius, founded four hundred years ago by the Jesuits; but also the fact that no less that 70% of the population of Lithuania even today belong to the Catholic Church and only an insignificant portion consider themselves atheists. The people's government, in ratifying the Decree, should have considered the beliefs and wishes of the majority of citizens; however, it did just the opposite: The interests of a handful of atheists decided the discriminatory nature of the regulations for religious societies.

With this document we wish to show the Soviet government what the priests and faithful of Lithuania think of these regulations which have been forced on them - contrary not just to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also to the Constitution of the Lithuanian S.S.R. - and the essential purpose of which is to destroy the Catholic Church in Lithuania.

The regulations for religious associations require that the religious society be registered (Par. 2); without this registration it may not begin its activities (Par. 4). A religious association wishing to register must apply to the executive committee of the rayon or city workers' soviet, which makes its decision and sends it, together with its conclusion, to the Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian S.S.R. (Par. 5). The latter considers the material received (Par. 7) and sends it to the Council for Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R., which registers the association or rejects its application (Par. 4).

The regulations requiring the religious society to register do not guarantee that it will be registered. In fact the registration of a religious society can be blocked by the executive committee of the rayon, by the Council of Ministers, or the Council for Religious Affairs. The religious society can be harassed for years over its registration and not even know who the real culprit is. It does not have the right even to take the decisions of local government officials to the people's court. On March 31,1978, the faithful of 2alioji (rayon of Vilkaviškis), after many attempts to register their society, appealed to the Council for Religious Affairs in Moscow with the request that their religious society be registered.

The Council sent the request of the religious society of Žalioji to the Representative of the Council for Religious Affairs in Vilnius, and the latter turned the entire matter over to the Executive Committee of the rayon of Vilkaviškis for decision. The representative of the latter, J. Urbonas, stated that the religious society of 2alioji would never be registered. Similarly in 1976-77, the religious society of Slabadai, rayon of Vilkaviškis, tried in vain to register its committee and begin activities; however, it kept encountering the arbitrariness of government officials.

If, according to the Constitution of the Lithuanian S.S.R., "The Church in the Lithuanian S.S.R. is separated from the state", then the state has no right to demand the registration of the religious society, but be satisfied with the declaration that such and such a community exists. The requirement of registering the religious society means that it is forbidden and only registration gives it the right to exist. This is a direct contradiction of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims, "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association." (Art. 20).

* * *

The regulations allow no one younger than eighteen to be a member of a religious association. (Par. 3).

The Catholic Church never has and never will agree to this, for it essentially contradicts its doctrine and law (the canons). The Church, on the basis of Christ's teaching that Baptism, Penance, and other sacraments are necessary for salvation, requires that children be baptized within a month after birth, and that children go to Confession and Holy Communion from approximately the age of seven. Therefore, the Church considers persons as its members not from the age of eighteen, but from the day of Baptism; hence the state unconditionally guaranteeing its citizens "freedom of worship" cannot rescind these guarantees, or restrict them by law.

The regulations considering individuals as members of religious associations only from the age of eighteen open the door to the broadest discrimination against believers. No one guarantees that on the basis of Paragraph 3 of the regulations, government officials might not some day forbid the baptism of infants, the admission of children to the sacraments, the attending of church by the youth, etc. The experience of the Russian SSR and other Soviet republics indicates that this misgiving on the part of the believing people of Lithuania has some basis. For example, the regulations for religious societies of the Latvian S.S.R. actually forbid persons under the age of eighteen to take part in religious services.

* * *

"The religious society has the right to acquire articles for the maintenance of the church and for the religious cult, the means of transportation, to rent, construct, and purchase buildings . . ." (Par. 3).

Elsewhere, the regulations assert that "Property necessary for the performance of the cult, whether transferred according to contract for the use of believers constituting the religious society, or acquired by them or donated to them for purposes of the cult, belong to the state . . ." (Par. 22). The religious society, if abolished, is deprived of even its money, incense, candles, wine, wax, and fuel. (Par. 34e). Thus, the basic idea of Par. 3 is that the religious society has the right to acquire various articles for church maintenance and worship,the means of transportation, buildings, etc. not for itself, but for the state! The state, taking things donated by the faithful, seriously contravenes the will of the faithful, who, when donating to the Church, have no intention of enriching the state or museum collections: the state does not abide by the Universal Declaration, which proclaims "No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property". (Art. 17.2).

Par. 10 of the regulations states that a religious society "can obtain", by established procedures, a single building for prayer. This means that believers may not obtain such a building if local atheists or government officials want it. Many churches in Lithuania have been arbitrarily closed: in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Ukmergė, Panevėžys, and elsewhere. Religious societies must have the unabridged right to acquire and to build themselves churches, if they have not had one. Since the churches in Lithuania have been built not by atheists, but by the believing public, the state, by allowing them their use, is not doing the faithful any favors. Nor may the state determine how many houses of worship a religious society may have. This would be a clear interference in the internal affairs of the religious society.

The regulations envision that in the religious society various functions can be performed only by "individual persons"; i.e., the religious society is accorded no rights as a legal person. Collective farms, cooperatives, hospitals, even art, athletic, and other organizations can be legal persons; only the religious society does not have this right. It follows that the believers of Lithuania (the situation of all believers in the Soviet Union is similar) are not equal before the law with atheists, and the state in fact considers them second-class citizens, even though the Constitution of the Lithuanian S.S.R. states, "The citizens of the Lithuanian S.S.R. are equal before the law . . ." (Par. 32).

* * *

"General meetings of religious societies and of groups of believers (except for worship services) take place with . . . the permission of the executive committee." (Par. 12).

This means that without permission of the rayon, even a group of three or four believers may not meet to discuss matters of religion. This paragraph contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims that "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in an association" (Par. 20.1), and gives the impression that the state regards believers as criminals whose every step must be watched. Regulations such as these artificially evoke dissatisfaction among believers, mistrust of and resistance to the state, and this is very harmful to the normal development of the society.

* * *

The religious society "elects its executive organs from among its members in a general meeting of believers by open ballot." (Par. 13).

If "The Church in the Lithuanian SSR is separated from the state" (Constitution of the Lithuanian SSR, Par. 50), should it then concern the state what kind of balloting takes place in the religious society - secret or open? The faithful understand the requirement, that voting in the religious society be by open ballot, as an effort by the government to prevent the election of suitable representatives of the religious society.

Since the regulations do not forbid government officials to participate in the general meeting of the religious society, officials can exert moral ' pressure on members of the religious society to elect persons acceptable not to the society, but to the executive committee of the rayon.

If the "open balloting" fails to produce the desired results, and the believers elect knowledgeable and active representatives of the religious society, the executive committee of the rayon has the right arbitrarily to dismiss any person from the executive body of the religious society. (Par. 14). So the atheist government wishes, through the executive committees, to run the Church, subjecting it to its own ends.

* * *

"Religious societies do not have the right to organize special meetings of children or of youth . . ." (Par. 17). "The teaching of religion can be allowed only in spiritual schools." (Par. 18).

School-children who are religious believers are forced to enroll in various atheistic organizations, contrary to the Universal Declaration, which proclaims that "No one may be compelled to belong to an association." (Par. 20). Religious school-children are forced to participate in "special" -atheist - meetings of the Pioneers and the Communist Youth League, but they are forbidden to meet together to deepen their faith, or even to learn to sing a few religious hymns, because all of this is considered "a special meeting".

Par. 17 of the regulations directly contradicts Art. 20 of the Universal Declaration, which guarantees everyone (child, student, and youth) the right to freedom of participating in peaceful meetings.

* * *

Paragraph 18 of the regulations speaks of "spiritual schools", which are forbidden in Soviet Lithuania, while the sole surviving seminary in Kaunas is strictly limited and carefully watched by government officials. By its order of May 12, 1966, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian S.S.R. forbade the organizing of religious instruction of school-children.

As a matter of fact, this rule of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet is invalid because it directly contradicts the International Convention Against Discrimination in the Field of Education, which came into effect in the Soviet Union on November 1, 1962. Paragraph 6 of this Convention directs that parents must have the possibility "of guaranteeing the religious or moral education of their children, in keeping with the beliefs of the parents themselves." Paragraphs 17 and 18 of the regulations on religious societies deprive believing parents of the ability to guarantee such an education. On the basis of the regulation of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, dated May 12,1966, a number of Lithuanian priests (Juozas Zdebskis, Prosperas Bubnys, and Antanas Šeškevičius) were sentenced to prison just because, at the request of the parents, they taught children the truths of religion.

According to Par. 18, even a grandparent telling grand-children about God could be criminally liable. The permission to teach religion only in spiritual schools, which are banned, is essentially deceptive, concealing within itself the purpose of destroying religion as soon as possible. Paragraph 18 makes it possible in the future to forbid priests the preaching of sermons, since preaching in church is the teaching of religion outside spiritual schools. Finally, Paragraph 18 contradicts the Universal Declaration, which accords every person "the right ... to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." (Par. 19). Why then do the regulations build walls around the teaching of religion?

* * *

Clergy are allowed to perform rites of worship only within the territory and in the church pertaining to the religious community they serve. (Par. 19).

Christ told his disciples to go not just to the community permitted by the government, but "into the whole world" (Mat. 28,19) and to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world (pagans, believers, and atheists). Paragraph 19 constantly forces priests to act against their own conscience, and it prevents believers from performing the duties imposed on them by their faith. For instance, government officials, by preventing priests from assisting one another during religious holidays or retreats keep believers

from making their Easter Confession or from receiving indulgences, and nullify the "freedom of worship" guaranteed by the Constitution of the U.S.S.R. Paragraph 19 also contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which gives every person the right freely to disseminate their ideas "regardless of frontiers" (Par. 19); all the more, of the territorial boundaries of a religious community.

* * * 

"Religious centers and the administrations of dioceses are granted the right to produce articles for church maintenance and for religious cult." (Par. 20).

The right is granted, but the means are denied, and so during the entire postwar period in Lithuania there has not been a single rosary made overtly, nor has a single catechism been published. With the permission of the Soviet government, only a very limited number of prayerbooks appeared, which did not satisfy the needs of even one percent of the faithful.

* * *

Paragraphs 22 and 34 of the regulations, considering liturgical articles or worship as the property of the state, allow government offices to confiscate even the sacred Mass vessels: chalices, the monstrance, etc. The faithful are afraid that the state justifies this sacrilege by law. The believer is obliged in conscience to defend sacred articles from any plunderers, with all the means at his disposal; hence the promulgators of these regulations artificially set millions of believers against the government and provoke them to conflict. The aforesaid paragraphs offend the most sacred feelings of believers. Where then is "the separation of Church and state", if government officials' fingers reach even the most sacred of sacred places -the tabernacle on the altar?!

Confiscation of property from the religious community is contrary to the Universal Declaration, which proclaims that "Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others."

The faithful will be convinced that the state renounces discrimination against the Church only when religious groups are allowed to own property and to enjoy the rights of a juridical person.

* * *

The regulations allow the religious society to use the house of prayer and articles of worship only after concluding a contract with the executive committee of the soviet of workers and accepting unilaterally dictated conditions. (Par. 23, 24, 25).

In 1948, during the era of the cult of Stalin, "agreements" were forced on the Catholic Church in Lithuania. At that time the faithful were threatened with the closing of their churches and priests were suppressed. It is strange that in 1975 the Soviet government once again repeated the crime committed against the Church during the Stalin era: it once again forced the Church to enter into "contracts". As a matter of fact, the faithful cannot freely accept unilateral "contracts" which discriminate against the faithful, for such agreements help government officials to interfere administratively in the internal life of the Church.

The regulations allow even the representatives of local executive committees to inspect the church and its property at any time. (Par. 25.F). It occurs to us that under this pretext, the government can without any legal warrant search the church building at any time, day or night "to take an inventory of property", even the tabernacle, in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved.

* * *

The regulations envision that persons of appropriate faith and views may later join the representatives (the "twenty") of the religious society. (Par. 27).

The regulations leave a loophole here for interlopers to join the religious society. The government can deem as a person "of appropriate views" someone once baptized but now an atheist, who could be interested in defending only the interests of the government. Such persons, should they constitute a majority of the religious society, could even wreck the society. In reality, a religious society can be made up only of believing persons generally known.

* * *

Insurance compensation for houses of prayer which have burned down is paid out to the executive committee of the Soviet People's Deputies, which has the right to designate the money received for any purpose, even for atheist activity. (Par. 29). What a great injustice to the faithful! They build the churches, they pay government taxes for them, but in case of misfortune they receive no insurance compensation! Most often the religious society does not even receive permission to erect a new house of prayer. For example, in Sangruda (rayon of Kapsukas) after the church burned down, the insurance compensation was claimed by the executive committee of the rayon of Kapsukas, and the religious society was not even allowed to erect a new church. The faithful had to be satisfied with an ordinary dwelling in which a humble house of prayer was set up.

It happened similarly in Batakiai, Gaurė, and elsewhere. Paragraph 29 is a great encouragement for militant atheists to destroy churches purposely, and the faithful of Lithuania suspect that the majority of churches burned down during the postwar years were purposely burned down by persons of bad will.

* * * 

The Council of Ministers of the Lithuanian SSR has the full right, regardless of the wishes of the faithful, to close the church at any time, to use it for profane purposes, or even to demolish it, confiscating all its property. (Par. 30-34).

During the postwar years in Lithuania great injustice was perpetrated against the faithful by closing many of their churches against their will and later converting them into warehouses, factories, and in the case of St. Casimir's Church in Vilnius, even converting it into a museum of atheism! Since the religious society does not have the rights of a juridical person, it cannot defend itself in court. Thus the faithful must always be subject to fear and submit to the arbitrariness of local officials, since they are always threatened with the closing of their houses of prayer for disobeying.

In order for the Council of Ministers of the LSSR to decide to close a church or to abolish a religious society, it is sufficient to have a complaint from the local atheist council that the religious society is breaking the laws concerning cult. (Par. 35, 36). Thus the religious society must tremble not only before officials, but also before local atheists. Paragraph 35 of the regulations is a sword of Damocles, constantly hanging over the heads of the faithful.

A normal situation would be one in which the activities of a religious society would be discontinued only by a court decision for a serious offense committed, and not for failing to comply with anti-constitutional regulations.

* * *

Paragraphs 37-44 state that even for the most minute church repairs the permission of the rayon executive committee is required; that during repairs, which could last up to a year, church services could be forbidden, and that executive committees, basing themselves on the commissions which they send, can decide to demolish the church. All this gives the atheist government a wide range of possibilities under the guise of repairs or the building's age, to confiscate churches from the faithful, and in an administrative manner to campaign against religion. However, the regulations say nothing about rayon executive committees helping believers, at least by allotment of necessary materials. These days both organizations and individuals are afraid to get involved in church repairs since this is unofficially considered almost as anti-Soviet activity.

* * * 

The religious society is allowed to take up offerings only within the house of prayer. (Par. 45). This paragraph is aimed directly against small religious societies. Since collective farm workers are often forced to work on Sundays, and other believers, on account of old age, long distance, or other reasons cannot come to church, they cannot all contribute to the collections taken up for the support of the church. Thus, the religious society is prevented from having enough money for repairs, salaries, and most importantly - to pay the huge taxes on churches.

* * * 

The religious society does not have the right to establish mutual aid funds. (Par. 45.D).

This rule contradicts the command of Christ to do good to people and so it prevents the faithful from living according to the requirements of Christian love. The religious society is even forbidden from giving its own members material assistance. (Par. 45). The state does not admit those directly doing church work (clergy, organists, sacristans) into professional organizations and in old age it gives them no pension. Paragraphs 32 and 41 of the Constitution of the LSSR do not apply to them. For example, the priests of Lithuania pay increasing taxes every year, but they have no claim to security in old age.

The rule forbidding the religious society from giving material aid to its members is inhuman and tantamount to a rule that religious ministers in their old age have the right only to poverty and hunger. The faithful see this paragraph of the regulations as an effort by the atheist government to frighten believers away from church ministry.

* * *

Priests are forbidden, from the traditional annual pastoral visitation of parishioners' homes. (Par. 45).

Church law imposes on priests the duty of visiting every one of their parishioners annually. The regulations, forbidding the priest to visit his parishioners, want to isolate him from the people. Hence the priest, forbidden to work not only in other parishes, but even in his own, is unable to carry out his direct duties.

* * *

Every article donated to the church, e.g., carpeting, chalice, etc., must be included in the inventory list and becomes the property of the state. (Par. 46). The faithful, donating something to the church, haven's no intention at all of giving that article to the state. This paragraph is clearly discriminatory and serves to inhibit believers from supporting and furnishing churches with their donations.

* * * 

The priest is allowed to visit a seriously ill patient in the hospital (Par. 49), but this permission is constantly restricted, because, by order of rayon executive committees, physicians very often do not allow the priest to visit a patient, arguing that the patient is not dying yet, or that there is no separate facility where the priest could carry out religious ministrations. Paragraph 49 unduly restricts "freedom to worhsip" guaranteed by the LSSR.

* * *

Religious processions and outdoor ceremonies require special permission of the rayon executive committee. (Par. 50).

If the atheists have the right to organize parades, festivals, and various civil holidays in public places, then the faithful ought to have exactly the same right. However, during the entire postwar era, not one religious society in Lithuania has ever been granted permission for a religious procession beyond the churchyard (the only exceptions are priests' funeral processions).

* * *

Paragraph 50 forbids priests from performing religious rites in the homes of the faithful, e.g. baptizing a sick infant, blessing the home, etc. Believers consider this rule an unconstitutional interference in the private citizen's apartment and in affairs of conscience. This paragraph forbids even three or four believers without permission of the executive committee to pray together outside, in the woods, or even in the private quarters of the faithful. Religious services may be carried out only at the request of a seriously ill or dying patient.

* * *

Hence the executive committee is left the right of deciding when a patient is truly dying or seriously ill. For example, in the territory of the Moldavian SSR it is required that the physician attest in writing that the patient is truly seriously ill; only then can a priest expect to obtain permission of the executive committee to visit the patient.

If the Soviet government forces priests and faithful to keep these inhuman, unconstitutional regulations, which are contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to other international agreements signed by the USSR, there will be unrest in the nation, and millions of believers will feel cheated and demeaned. Therefore, for the reasons explained above, we request the Presidia of the U.S.S.R. and of the L.S.S.R. to repeal these regulations as soon as possible.

The Members of the Catholic Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Believers
Rev. Jonas Kauneckas
Rev. Alfonsas Svarinskas
Rev. Sigitas Tamkevičius
Rev. Vincas Velavičius
Rev. Juozas Zdebskis