The Catholic Church: When an apology isn’t an apology

“Even though the Church sent no body to do harm, we, the Catholic clerics in particular, apologise, again, for some of the Church members, clerics, people who dedicated themselves to serve God and Christians in general who played a role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi”.

“Even though the Church sent no body to do harm, we, the Catholic clerics in particular, apologise, again, for some of the Church members, clerics, people who dedicated themselves to serve God and Christians in general who played a role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi”.

As reported by both local and international media, the above sentence was part of a multi-page communiqué, co-signed by all the Catholic bishops in the country, which was meant to be read out in all the parishes across the country on Sunday.

The statement finally acknowledges that Catholic Church members planned, aided and carried out the Genocide.

The problem is, in my opinion, this statement not only comes decades too late but it also changes nothing to be honest.

First of all, the question that I need to ask is this; why this statement now? It has been 22 years since the horrors befell our country. Why didn’t this mea culpa come when the wounds were still fresh? I feel that this ‘apology’ would have made much more sense then. I might be over-reacting, but was this communiqué simply an acknowledgement that Rwanda has changed for good and for always?

Were the bishops biding their time, holding on to the hope that their old ‘partners’ would return, making such an ‘embarrassing’ apology unnecessary?

Secondly, if you read the carefully worded communiqué, you realise that the bishops aren’t actually apologising for the Church’s actions and omissions. This isn’t an institutional apology that we are getting. This isn’t the voice of the Vatican. This is simply an acknowledgement that the Church’s priests and nuns participated in the killings.

Ho hum! We all know that; a simple examination of the Gacaca records could show that. Why aren’t the bishops apologising for not speaking out during the killings? Why are they not apologising for not going on the radio, as a Church, to denounce the plans that were being hatched to commit genocide?

Why are they not apologising as an institution for not giving more support for their members who bravely pushed back against the killers?

In his long reign as pope, Pope John Paul II formally apologised for the following; the legal process against Galileo Galilei, Catholics involvement in the African slave trade, the Church’s role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation, the injustices committed against women, the violation of women’s rights and for the historical denigration of women, the inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust.

This is in addition to the apologies for the execution of Jan Hus in 1415, for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating “the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and (for showing) contempt for their cultures and religious traditions; for the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204, the Catholic sex abuse cases, the Church-backed “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children in Australia and for the behavior of Catholic missionaries in colonial times in China.

Anything about the brutal Athanase Seromba, the Catholic cleric who brought down the church on his congregation killing everyone? No. Anything about the massacres in Ntarama Church? No. Anything about the gun-yielding Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka? No. It’s been two popes now since John Paul II breathed his last and still the silence from the Vatican is deafening.

The idea that only Church members are in the dock, and not the Church itself, is ludicrous in my opinion. Something about the Rwandan Catholic Church, and its teachings, made the Genocide possible.

Perhaps it was the White Fathers and their views on Hutu and Tutsi that skewed the Rwandan church. Maybe it was Archbishop André Perraudin and his Kabgayi minions that poisoned the well. Whatever it was, the rot in the Church revealed itself in its horrendous splendor in 1994. And for the bishops to pretend that the issue was a few bad ‘apples’ and not the institution itself is a fallacy of the highest order.

So forgive me if I don’t get excited about last week’s communiqué. It is simply a waste of everyone’s time. We need to demand more. The Church must fess up.

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