In 1960, Pope John XXIII issued a moving statement of contrition: “The mark of Cain is stamped upon our foreheads. Across the centuries, our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, and shed tears we caused by forgetting thy love.
Forgive us, Lord, for the curse we falsely attributed to thy name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying thee a second time in flesh. For we knew not what we did.”
Fast-forward 57 years later, March 2017, President Paul Kagame visited the Vatican at the invitation of Pope Francis.
Shortly after this meeting, the Pope issued a statement for which many in Rwanda had longed, but, had despaired of ever hearing in their life-time.
In the statement, the Pope “implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission”.
These sins, the statement went on to say, had “disfigured the face of Catholicism”. The pope spoke for the institution of the Church, and individuals within that institution. The pope chose his words carefully.
He acknowledged the Church - as in institution - had sinned, not just individuals within the Church.
If he wasn’t, the Pope ought to have been thinking of one man in particular: Archbishop Andre Perraudin. Without Perraudin and others of similar mind, pope Francis may have had no need to make the statement of contrition, and Rwanda may not be mourning 1,074, 017 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Perraudin may have been a Swiss citizen, but his position in the Catholic Church made him one of the most powerful figures in Rwanda. If the so-called Hutu-power—genocidal politics were a tree, colonial racist theory was the seed and Perraudin was very much the tap root.
In 1994, as the ideology he and other colonialists preached unfolded into mass murder, Perraudin sought to blame the victim.
“This project (of seizing power by arms) was never abandoned by Tutsi leaders, it came to light on October 1, 1990.
“This iron will of seizing power is the key to all the events which brought bloodshed to Rwanda, including the genocide against the Tutsi. As far as the RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) is concerned, the massacres of the Tutsi living inside the country is of secondary concern.]
“Without hesitation, we can assert that the first and main cause of the genocide against the Tutsi in April 1994 is the attack of the country by the Tutsi themselves. Had there not been October 1, and all that ensued, in particular the assassination of President Habyarimana, no genocide against the Tutsi would have taken place, both before and after RPF seized power in Kigali in July 1994.”
Such denial comes as no surprise, but, it is nonetheless breath-taking in its absolute denial of self- evident truth. This from a cleric who was at the very least complicit in the massacres of Batutsi in 1959, and 1960s.
Where was the RPF then? Blaming the RPF for the Genocide is, of course, the narrative of most genocidaires and their revisionist fellow travellers.
Witness the claim from the extremist Rally for the Return of Democracy in Rwanda (RDR) party. In a document La verite sur le drame Rwandais, RDR writes: “The massacres were in fact the consequence of the conflict which had pitted the two ethnic groups against each other for centuries and which was revived by the war launched in October, 1990 by the RPF. The demons of hatred between Hutu and Tutsi were stirred up as the Tutsi continued to show sympathy towards and then complicity with RPF”.
Authors of this document included the notorious Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, Dr Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, in the leadership of the genocidal government. The three were convicted for genocide crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
If Perraudin is the tap root of the poisoned tree of racist ideology, the Rwandan genocidaires are its bitter fruit. He and his congregation of white fathers were the mentors, their godfathers. Perraudin was the brains behind the “Bahutu Manifesto”. This document, published in March 1957, introduced racial politics in Rwanda.
Jan Adriaenssens, another White Father Priest, said admiringly of his brethren, that Parmehutu leaders like Gregoire Kayibanda and Calliope Mulindahabi, were Bishop Perraudin’s “collaborators”.
According to James J Carney, in his doctoral thesis ‘From Democratisation to Ethnic Revolution; Catholic Politics in Rwanda, 1950-1962’, Perraudin bragged that many Rwandans traced the emergence of the ethnic question to the Kabgayi vicariate.
And, well they might. In his now famous pastoral letter of 11th February 1959, “Super Omnia Caritas” (Above all Charity), which he called the “charter of my Episcopate”, Perraudin writes of Rwandans: “Each race has its qualities and its defects…people belonging to different races who just live side by side on the same territory”.
The Bishop’s letter reinforced the tenets of the ‘Bahutu Manifesto’ by adding plain racialist image of the Hutu-Tutsi otherness. The letter was given a false appearance of the “evangelical love” which the Church must preach.
The letter is a grotesque diversion of the concept. His “Super Omnia Caritas” from being charity above all, and sows the seeds of hate, among a people to whom he claims to be the “spiritual father”.
The role of the Catholic Church in the Genocide goes much farther than 1994. The ‘International Panel of Eminent Personalities’, commissioned by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to investigate the Rwanda genocide and events leading up to it, concluded that the Belgian colonisers and the Catholic Church had been guilty of ethno-genesis.
Colonel Guy Logiest is a Belgian soldier who was specially deployed to Rwanda from Congo’s Force Publique. In his book, ‘Mission au Rwanda’, he admits he was pro-PARMEHUTU and that he was behind the so-called Hutu revolution.
There was a causal link.
Colonel Logiest reveals, that soon after his arrival on 4th November 1959, he was briefed by Bishop Perraudin about likely political events in Rwanda caused by “injustices of which the Hutu had constantly been the victims.” The first genocidal massacres, referred to as political events started on the 1st November 1959!
Correspondingly, Col. Logiest says, Rwanda’s Hutu elite (behind the bloodbaths) had been “formed at Kabgayi, in the shadow of the bishop in the minor and major seminary.”
Monsignor Jean-Baptiste Hategeka, a Rwandan cleric and philosopher, said scathingly of Perraudin, that for this “spiritual father of all Rwandans” it was normal that with every attempt by the Tutsi in exile to return to their country, they met not only “armed refusal”, but also “the Tutsi who had remained in Rwanda were periodically sacrificed”.
Like the perpetrators of the Genocide for whom he truly was the “spiritual father”, Perraudin refers to Tutsi exiles who fled the periodic pogroms in their homeland as “terrorists”.
It may be hoping against hope, but now that like Pope John XXII before him, Pope Francis has spoken those who still toe Perraudin’s line can follow St Augustine’s dictum, “Roma, locuta est, causa finita est” Rome has spoken, the dispute is at an end.
The writer is a Genocide scholar and researcher.