The Catholic Church has acknowledged the indifference of its members during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and will apologise as soon as the Genocide inquiries and court cases into the role of the church members are concluded.
Over three decades of hate campaign that culminated in the Genocide against the Tutsi marked the weakness of Christian churches in Rwanda.
VIDEO: L'abscé de la vérité. Source: Gasigwa Léopold/YouTube
At a national retreat of church leaders in Musanze District, last year, clerics expressed their apologies for their shortcomings in their mission to spread love.
But the Bishop of Kabgayi, Smaragde Mbonyintege, who doubles as the chairperson of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, said delaying to apologise was justified as unprepared Rwandans and survivors associations were likely to wrongly interpret the apologies.
“Prior to apologising, the church is preparing the minds to receive our expressions,” Mbonyintege told The New Times last week.
“Starting just after the Genocide, we have been encouraging the culprits to confess and seek pardon from the survivors, at the same time preparing the latter to forgive. The Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda is not génocidaire, but our apologies are on behalf of our members who participated in the Genocide,” the bishop added.
The Archbishop of the Kigali Archdiocese, Thaddee Ntihinyurwa, also reaffirmed that the church will apologise “as soon as the Genocide inquiries and court cases of the church members are over.”
Archbishop Ntihinyurwa was speaking to Leopold Gasigwa, the film-maker of L’abscé de la vérité (‘The Tumour of the Truth’).
He confirmed this in an interview with this newspaper last week.
Reacting to the move, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) and the umbrella of Genocide survivors associations, Ibuka, both commended the clerics on the idea but urged them not to delay any longer.
“It is a good move by the churches if they now feel apologetic, but let them do it soon when the Genocide survivors are still alive. It would definitely lose importance if they apologised to people who do not clearly know of their participation,” said Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana, the executive secretary of CNLG.
Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of Ibuka, shared Dr Bizimana’s concerns and recommended that churches, particularly the Catholic Church, to help in upholding justice.
“If they only apologise for Genocide crimes but not help bring fugitives to justice, it will be in vain,” he said.
Dr Jean Baptiste Habyarimana, the executive secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), told The New Times that the churches had lost momentum and would discuss with them during a meeting slated this month.
Dr Bizimana said unlike other churches that closed their eyes, the Roman Catholic Church offered indirect support in Genocide against the Tutsi.
“The Catholic Church rendered support to the genocidal regime from the 1959 so-called revolution when thousands of Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries. The church intervened in the creation of early political parties which promoted ethnic discrimination,” he said, citing an example of Bishop André Perraudin who supported Joseph Gitera to start Aprosoma and Gregoire Kayibanda to set up Parmehutu.
Dr Bizimana added that Catholic schools implemented the discriminatory programme, known as Iringaniza, which excluded the Tutsi.
But Bishop Mbonyintege said they opposed Iringaniza in their schools but succumbed to the government pressure.
“For example, Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami and Bishop Joseph Sibomana denounced publicly the ethnic discrimination in schools (Iringaniza) but were forced to receive the students that government was sending them,” he said.
Bishop Mbonyintege noted that the Catholic Church worked with the former government, not on the plan of Genocide but in education, health and development programmes, as they are working with the current government.
“The Catholic Church always works with governments on social programmes, however, there has always been pressure from political leaders to have the church get involved in political issues but we declined,” he said.
Although Dr Bizimana lauds Pope John Paul II on being the first, in 1994, to confirm publicly that Genocide was taking place in Rwanda, he blames the Catholic Church of not helping the quest for justice yet the Pope recommended them to do so in 1996.
Bishop Mbonyintege admitted the failure of the Catholic clerics to publicly disapprove of the killings, but said that the church never interferes in criminal investigations or in the work of prosecutors.
“We were numbed when the Genocide started but we had no power to stop it because the killers were armed. The clerics feared to rebuke the murderers and we are ashamed of that weakness and much more frustrated over the involvement of our priests and church members in the Genocide,” he said.
From sacred places to killing grounds
While Ibuka wishes that churches that were smeared with the blood of Genocide victims be turned into memorial sites, the Catholic Church believes that it is giving honour to the departed when they do Eucharist service over their graves.
“Many churches served as the killing grounds during Genocide, and then people cleaned away the blood of innocents and started praying from there. That does not honour the Genocide victims. We want those churches turned into memorial sites,” Ahishakiye said.
“We all understand the brutality of Genocide in the same way, but differ from political institutions on the commemoration of the victims. We believe that keeping the innocents in the sacred places, honours them most. Our first cathedrals are built on the graves of martyrs. We remember and pray for them whenever we do Eucharist,” said Bishop Mbonyintege.
Bishop Mbonyintege added that their churches put up memorial plates showing the names of the victims and messages condemning the Genocide.
Catholic Church versus Genocide denial
Dr Bizimana, commended the contribution of the church in building unity and reconciliation, but decried their slackness in fighting the Genocide deniers who include some of their priests.
Bishop Mbonyintege said that a catholic priest ex-communicates himself when he involves in politics.
“In the voice of Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church was the first to confirm the Genocide against the Tutsi while the international community was silent. This church cannot deny or trivialise the Genocide. Those priests who deny Genocide just bear our name but no longer serve the church,” he said.
Bishop Mbonyintege noted that the church condemns the evildoers, but also praise the good works of their members who endured the wrath of killers and saved many during the Genocide.