Volume 49, No.2 - Summer 2003
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2003 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


Rimantas Gudelis. The Process of Reconciliation within the Lithuanian Catholic Church: After the Soviet Occupation. Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 2002. Paperback, 155 pages.

The Foreword, written by Robert J. Schreiter, C.PP.S., indicates that this book is a contribution to the work of reconstruction of the Catholic Church in Lithuania. At a time when the Church needs to rebuild the larger society after decades of atheistic and authoritarian rule, the Church finds itself faced with the task of healing its own ranks. "Drawing upon his own experience in the concluding years of Communist rule in Lithuania and upon the experience of churches in other countries struggling with similar issues of remembering, healing and reconciliation, he offers a number of things which will be valuable for the Church in Lithuania as it struggles to move forward." (1)

The book flows from the author's ministry, which extended through the period when the Lithuanian Church was oppressed; during the period of Gorbachov's perestroika, when society and the Church moved toward reconstruction; and in the current period of independence. During the Soviet occupation, the clergy were divided into two parts—those who collaborated and those who did not.

From interviews with former dissidents, the author learned that many of them were still living in the spirit of resistance. For many, the theology of reconciliation and spirit of forgiveness toward former wrongdoers or those who think differently from them was foreign.

From his studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the author learned that different churches have dealt with internal reconciliation differently. In Russia, where almost every bishop collaborated with the Soviets, there are no resources for the reconciliation process even to this day. In Poland or East Germany, where only a few people not holding high positions within the Church collaborated, the Church found it easier to replace the wrongdoers. The Church in Argentina dealt differently with this problem than did the Church in Chile.

Two strong opposite poles existed in the Lithuanian Catholic Church during the Soviet period. These two unreconciled groups still exist after more than ten years of independence. This indicates that the Church and society are still not reconciled, and that it is a long process that needs to be studied and discussed.

This book explores the process of reconciliation in post-Communist Lithuania. The biggest part of this study looks at where the Lithuanian Catholic Church now stands in this process. At the core of the study are interviews with dissidents who resisted Soviet rule and how they understand reconciliation.

Father Rimantas Gudelis indicates that the dissident movement within the Catholic Church began in the 1970's. "They organized their activities around three different groups: the Committee to Defend Catholic Rights in Lithuania, The Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, which was the longest lasting underground publication in the Soviet Union, and the Brothers of the Holy Eucharist, an underground organization to which the author belonged." (4)

The author interviewed the most active dissidents. Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, their names were not revealed in the book. Other interviews were obtained by the Religious Studies Center at the University of Vilnius and made available to the author.

The goal of this study is to help Lithuanian dissidents and all Catholics to understand the spirituality of reconciliation and to help develop a strategy within the Lithuanian Catholic Church towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

After the fall of Communism, very little was said about what had happened in Lithuania. "The truth about the wrongdoers was not told. At that time, society and especially the Church, having suffered from the cruelest persecution, no longer had the strength to tell the truth. After a time, the wrongdoers even became 'heroes,' who were awarded medals of honor." (5)

According to the author, besides the truth, the most helpful tool needed to move toward reconciliation is the theology of reconciliation, which is practically unknown in Lithuanian culture. In his study, the author used the Whiteheads' method which involves three steps: attending— seeking information, asserting—expanding and deepening religious insights, and pastoral response—proposing concrete action.

Biblical texts are cited that speak in favor of forgiveness and reconciliation as well as examples from Church history and tradition. A deep division within the Catholic Church in Lithuania is repeatedly noted. There is a great need to overcome this division and former dissidents can play an important role. For the sake of the renewal of the Lithuanian Catholic Church and society, the Church should use the experiences of other churches in the world.

The study listed six presuppositions:
1. The Lithuanian Catholic Church is not a reconciled Church today. There are still priests who belong to opposing factions: those who collaborated or profited from the situation and those who resisted.
2. Former dissidents seeking reconciliation have become dissidents again, because most of the dissidents oppose reconciliation. Those seeking reconciliation are now seen as enemies, although they suffered together.
3. Those priests and lay people who collaborated are still in strategic, important positions in the Church, although the details of their collaboration are no longer secret. Wrong doers are trying to forget what happened.
4. What is happening in the Church mirrors Lithuanian society in general.
5. After ten years of independence, reconciliation in the Church and Society is an urgent need.
6. After the interviews, it became clear that reconciliation is more a matter of spirituality than strategy.

The book is divided into four chapters. The first,— "Genesis and Practical Experience"—depicts the historical background to how the Soviets divided the Church. It outlines the attacks on religion during the first Soviet occupation and briefly mentions the Nazi occupation. Then it covers the second Soviet occupation, the de-Stalinization, the emergence of the dissident movement and the Vatican's reaction to it, and ends with the author's personal experience during the times of persecution.

The second chapter is the "meat" of the study and contains interviews with former dissidents. It was interesting, but also somewhat frustrating from a scientific perspective. The results are difficult to verify. The names of the ten dissidents interviewed for the study are not disclosed because of the sensitivity of the matter and the vulnerability of the people about whom the author was writing. It is not clear under what circumstances these interviews were conducted. It is stated that the interviews were recorded. However, only excerpts are given. What was left out?

Based on the interviews, the author found four different views among the dissidents: reconciled without requiring justice (only one); reconciled, but requiring social justice; still on the way to reconciliation; stuck in the past and has no reason or strength to move toward reconciliation. Most of the dissidents interviewed belonged to the last two groups.

Chapter three deals with theological reflections. It reviews the Biblical Jacob's journey—a story in the Old Testament—toward reconciliation. It shows Jesus' teachings on the subject. It summarizes Church tradition and reconciliation.

Different cultures deal with reconciliation differently. Much depends on what resources the Church has to deal with reconciliation. How social and political powers shifted when oppression ended made a difference in how the culture dealt with reconciliation. In most cases, the Church during oppression remained an active independent voice from the regime. In those cases, the Church played a central role in resisting the oppressors. Often the oppressors tried to divide the Church. If they succeeded, it is difficult for the Church to assist in the process of reconciliation. In those cases, the Church itself has to go through a process of repentance.

Chapter four pertains to a renewed practice of reconciliation. It outlines reconciliation in the Lithuanian Catholic Church in terms of social justice in general. The introduction tells an interesting story of one Lithuanian bishop's visit to the author's parish in Chicago. Father Gudelis asked: "What are the former collaborators doing in the Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church now?" He writes that he did not expect such a straightforward answer from the bishop: "They are in charge of almost everything even after ten years of independence." (117)

The last section starts with saying that the Church should contribute to the process of reconciliation because the Church's mission flows from the Bible. "Christians believe that the reconciliation that God works is not the restoration to a former state, but a situation in which both victims and evildoers are taken to a new place. The victims, having experienced reconciliation, no longer demand vengeance upon the evildoers, but are able to imagine a totally new state of affairs."(141) Church leaders must change their strategy by studying the teachings of Vatican II and by a greater openness toward lay members of the Church, accepting them as independent subjects rather than only as objects of pastoral care. The church needs to study and to live according to the theology of reconciliation. Church leaders need to identify not with the wealthy class, but to support social justice. Particular emphasis is needed for the youth, requiring a more modern approach to evangelization that is better suited to their needs. Finally, the Church should retain independence from political authorities, acting without the support of political institutions.

It is nowhere clearly stated that this study was prepared as a part of the requirements for a Doctorate of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union, but the section on acknowledgments strongly implies it. Was it meant to be a scholarly dissertation? If this was the case, a "tighter" and a clearer presentation of the hypotheses, methodology, and results would have been expected. Sometimes the reader is not sure where the presentation of others ends and the opinions of the author start. While two individuals—by name—are thanked for their help with the English language, a number of places were missed. The result—a very direct translation of Lithuanian expressions and grammar into English.

Romualdas Kriđčiűnas Kriaučiűnas
Lansing, MI