LITHUANIA: Catholic Candidate Is New Religious Adviser.

Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 16 October 2001

Julius Ratkus, a school teacher and a Catholic, has been chosen as the Lithuanian government's new religious affairs adviser, Linas Vangalis, head of the department of education, science and culture in the central government apparatus, told Keston News Service from Vilnius on 15 October. Although Archbishop Audrys Backis of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vilnius had told Keston on 1 October that Ratkus was his Church's candidate for the post (see KNS 1 October 2001), Vangalis denied this. 'He was not the Catholic Church's candidate as such,' he insisted. 'He took part in the competition as an individual and was not recommended by any specific denomination. He was certainly not chosen because he is a Catholic.'

Vangalis pledged that as religious affairs adviser Ratkus would work on behalf of all religious denominations. 'The new adviser will be open to all denominations, both traditional and non-traditional, and will act in accordance with principles of openness and democracy,' Vangalis declared. 'He is above all an official who has the duty to treat all denominations equally. His own faith must not play a role.'

Ratkus, who was chosen over two other candidates on 11 October, begins work in his new post on 22 October. He replaces Petras Plumpa, who resigned last March after complaining that the government had ceased to pay attention to his views. Some minority denominations had complained that Plumpa promoted only the interests of his own Catholic Church and argued that the government should not have just one adviser but a committee with representatives from all the main faiths.

'The new adviser will be subject to me on an organisational level,' Vangalis told Keston, 'but he will have freedom to act in his own field.' He described Ratkus' role as handling religious affairs in government, providing analysis, acting as the main link with religious denominations and, recommending solutions to 'various problems'. He would also be able to initiate changes to laws, though any such changes would have to be approved by parliament. As a state official, his job is permanent and he is not subject to removal with any change of government. Vangalis said Ratkus would work with Arvydas Jozaitis, a political adviser to the prime minister on questions of culture, education and religion. 'Ratkus is an executive official, while Jozaitis' role is political.'

While recognising that the Catholic Church was 'positive' about the choice of Ratkus, Vangalis stressed that no agreements had been made that the new adviser would represent only the Catholic Church. 'I think he will act in accordance with the law. He is young, very tolerant and I don't think minority communities will have any problems,' he maintained.

Asked whether Ratkus will look at complaints by minority denominations over such issues as the complex four-tier registration system (under which parliament decides which denominations are regarded as 'traditional', with greater rights), the difficulties some denominations have getting back confiscated places of worship and the refusal to allow non-traditional faiths to buy land to build places of worship in their own name, Vangalis declared: 'Of course he will deal with such issues. There won't be any violation of rights. We will consider all representations made by religious denominations.' (END)