Rwandans were left in shock last week following a message from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rwanda that called for the release of the elderly and ill Genocide convicts in a public statement that was read out in all of its parishes across the country.
From the onset it was clear that something was wrong with the message itself, the manner of communication, and the timing.
The message was read on the same day Rwandans at home and abroad poised to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which claimed the lives of over a million people.
It is unusual for such an organisation to make requests of that nature through public statements instead of petitioning concerned state authorities.
Now, the Catholic Church is not like any other organisation – especially with regard to its influence in Rwandan society and particularly its link to the history of the Genocide and the bad politics that led to it.
The Catholic Church has historically not only been the predominant religion in Rwanda but it has previously been deeply intertwined with the state so much it had a central role in shaping and implementing the politics of exclusion and division that culminated into the 1994 slaughter.
Most importantly, here is a religious organisation whose clergy and followers actively participated in the Genocide, with key church figures betraying helpless faithful and fellow clergy, inviting a genocide machinery to turn churches into killing fields.
Many of these former places of worship are Genocide memorials today.
The truth is that the Church was not only deeply involved in sowing and growing hatred that set the stage for the Genocide but it also actively backed the genocidal regime throughout. Not once did the Catholic Church in Rwanda raise a finger to condemn the killings and send messages to its members urging them to not kill.
And it has never issued an apology to that effect, only claiming that its clergy and rank and file committed crimes individually and not at the behest or with the tacit approval of the Church.
But, then why would the Church advocate for the release of convicted genocidaires, and not call out those that spread genocide ideology and engage in denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi? Why hasn’t the Church openly asked convicts to show remorse and come clean on their deeds and reveal the whereabouts of the remains of their victims? Why hasn’t the Church extended significant support to the survivors, or call for the arrest of fugitives (including Catholic priests) to give justice to the victims?
And why choose April 7 to plead on behalf of convicted Genocide perpetrators and godfathers of genocide ideology? This, in disregard of the fact that thousands of such convicts have been released on presidential clemency over the years.
And the Church’s half-hearted apology, published on April 13, smacks of an unrepentant and despicable attitude. Rwandans would have expected the Church to use Kwibuka25 as an opportunity to reconcile with its dark past, atone for its role in the country’s tragedies, particularly the Genocide against the Tutsi, and change course.