TWO APOSTOLIC administrators for Lithuania have been appointed by the Pope according to a Vatican announcement.
The announcement was seen by Vatican observers as a sign of improved relations between the Catholic Church and communist officials in Lithuania. Once an independent nation, Lithuania has since 1940 been a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, and its Catholics have undergone decades of harsh persecution.
Appointed as apostolic administrators were 62-year-old Bishop Vincentas Sladkevicius for the Diocese of Kaisiadorys and 56year-old Father Antanas Vaicius for the Diocese of Telsiai.
Bishop Sladkevicius has been auxiliary bishop of the Kaisiadorys Diocese since 1957, but was transferred by communist authorities to another region and forbidden to return to Kaisiadorys to perform Church functions. The Telsiai See has been vacant since 1963 when its head, Bishop Vincius Borisevicius, died in prison.
Vatican sources said that the new appointments could not have been made without the approval of communist officials and that they demonstrated a wider toleration by communists.
Father Ladislao Tulaba, rector of the Lithuanian College in Rome, said, "We are happy that something is moving." Since 1940 all Catholic Church property in Lithuania has been confiscated and all chapels and monastery churches have been closed.
Religious services are tolerated, but most other religious activity is banned. Between 1945 and 1955, the period of the worst persecution. four bishops, 185 priests and an estimated 275,000 lay people were imprisoned or sent to Siberian concentration camps.
Only one seminary is allowed to operate for the country's six dioceses and it is permitted to have no more than 25 students.
In May an article by a leading Lithuanian atheist, Jonas Anieas. severely criticising Pope John Paul for supporting "religious extremism" in Lithuania, was published in the Soviet journal Literatura it Menas.
Anie.as, now rector of Vilnius Educational Institute, was until 1979 head of the Science and Education Department of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and is known as chief spokesman for militant atheism in the Lithuanian SSR. Anas accuses the Pope of having praised an "extremist" Lithuanian Catholic clergyman in a greeting that was broadcast by Vatican Radio and publicised in the Lithuanian emigre press.
The "clergyman" concerned is not named -perhaps because he is Bishop Julijonas Steponavi6us, who is not allowed to carry out his episcopal duties by the Soviet authorities and is forced to live in exile in a small village. According to some sources he is the cardinal appointed in pectore by the Pope.
The Pope also allegedly showed his hostility to Soviet Lithuanian society by giving a sermon in Lithuanian at the Lithuanian College in Rome on March 4, 1981, its 35th anniversary. This College, outside the borders of the Soviet Union, is seen by Anilas as a destructive influence on the Lithuanian Catholic clergy and believers. Contrasting Pope John Paul unfavourably with his predecessors Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, both of whom were for "peaceful coexistence with socialist countries", Ania'as accuses him of being the hope of reactionaries all over the world, who want him to restore "cold-war traditions".
While avoiding any mention of unofficial Lithuanian publications or groups for the defence of believers' rights the author interprets the struggle for religious and civil rights in Lithuania as part of a foreign plot to undermine socialist society from within by transforming the Church from a purely religious organisation into a political power.