How religion has survived in Russia
BY A STAFF REPORTER
RELIGION continues to survive and, in some instances to make headway in the Soviet Union despite 52 years of persecution by a militantly anti-religious regime, says a report published yesterday. The report also describes how more than three million Catholics have fared
under religious persecution.
Entitled "Religious Minorities in the Soviet Union 1960-70," the report has been issued by the Minorities Rights Group. It was compiled by the director of the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism, the Rev. Michael Bourdeaux, aided by Miss Kathleen Matchett and Miss Cornelia Gerstenmaier. Mr. Bordeaux, an Anglican, is a research fellow at the London School of Economics.
Three reasons are listed why religion continues to occupy a place in Soviet life, in spite of successive attempts to liquidate it since 1918.
The most important is the "resilience of religious faith". During the Krushchev regime, for example, there was a particularly fierce campaign against all religious groups, which was afterwards considered to have had the opposite effect to that intended.
A Soviet writer complained in 1965 that insults, violence and the forcible closing down of churches not only failed to reduce, but actually increased the numbers of believers, made clandestine religious groups more widespread, and antagonised them against the State. The second reason is the dichotomy in Soviet law. Mr. Bourdeaux quotes an early decree in which Lenin himself proclaimed that it was "illegal to restrain or limit freedom of conscience."
But although rights of conscience are thus supposed to be guaranteed under the Constitution, into which the decree was embodied, the Penal Code negates most of these rights.
The third reason, says the report, is Soviet sensitivity to world opinion. Religious groups are in fact persecuted for "dual allegiance" rather than for religious observances —and leaders of the Orthodox Church are allowed to travel abroad as proof of the country's tolerance.
The section of the report dealing with Soviet Catholics was written by Miss Gerstenmaier, who says that they arc persecuted not only for their religious steadfastness but for their "international connections."
The authorities also identify Catholics with separatist elements among Ukrainians, Belorussians, Latvians and Lithuanians. The latter make up the main body of Catholics in the U.S.S.R.
The Church has not been able to restore central leadership since the Revolution, says the report, and is not represented in Rome although the Russian Orthodox Church is. Some bishops have, however, been allowed to visit Rome since Vatican II.
Persecution The only Catholic dioceses functioning are in Latvia and Lithuania, and it is said that outside the Baltic and the West Ukraine only four Catholic churches are open. State control has prevented contact between dioceses, and young people from Belorussia, for example, may not study at the seminaries of Kaunas and Riga, although they are under Baltic jurisdiction. In Lithuania, once strongly Catholic, there are now no religious houses nor journals. Nearly half the churches have been closed, and the number of priests has fallen from 1,480 in 1940 (when Russia invaded) to 864 in 1967. There are only four bishops instead of 14, and only one seminary left out of four.
The report says that Catholics suffered renewed physical persecution from 1960-64. There were slanderous Press attacks on the clergy, travel restrictions which prevented confirmations and the administering of sacraments, and churchgoers who had their children baptised were discriminated against in many walks of life.
But despite repression and increased atheist propaganda. church attendance remains high in Lithuania, and few children are said to remain unbaptised there.
Reporting on the condition of the Eastern Rite Catholics in Russia. Miss Gerstenmaier says that most of their bishops died in prison, accused of collaboration with the Nazis, and alter the war a campaign was conducted to "re-unify" the Eastern Rite Catholics with the Orthodox Russians.
Mr. Bourdeaux feels that the reason for continuing hostility to religion in the U.S.S.R. is that it provides the only legal alternative ideology to Communism.
"The survival of religious faith will eventually depend on the strength of its inner resources, which in all the circumstances remains remarkable," he say's.