In June, towards the last weeks of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Cardinal Roger ETCHEGARAY was sent by Pope John Paul II to Rwanda. During his visit, the Holy See envoy met with several clerics, including priests and nuns.
At the Junior Seminary of Butare, Etchegaray met with priests and had discussions with them. In the meeting, Bishop Misago told him that the reason why Tutsi priests were being killed was that the population had lost trust in them.
“Eyewitnesses told me he then proposed to Cardinal Etchegaray to find another place for Tutsi priests outside Rwanda. Strangely enough, Etchegaray did not appear to be outraged by such words. Bishop Misago has confirmed to me that he did say this, but claimed it was for their safety!
Among members of the clergy who met with Etchegaray was the dreary Fr. Thaddée Rusingizandekwe, Professor of History at the Higher Seminary of Nyakibanda and former military chaplain of the Rwandan Armed Forces.
During this meeting, Fr. Rusingizandekwe wore a small cross and carried an automatic firearm. When Etchegaray saw this ambiguous situation, he asked Rusingizandekwe how he reconciled the cross and the gun.
Rusingizandekwe had nothing to say. The eye witness told me. Etchegaray did not, however, have the courage to seek the dismissal of this killer priest who excelled in genocide acts in Butare, Nyakibanda, Kibeho and Karama.
Fr. Rusingizandekwe fled Rwanda after several years in prison, in order to escape trial before the Gacaca court at Nyakibanda. He is believed to be in Italy.
When he returned to Europe, Etchegaray held several interviews with television and radio stations. He particularly was on the France 2 television channel, where he made unacceptable statements leading to confusion, and neither mentioned nor denounced the ongoing genocide.
This is what the Papal envoy had to say about the meeting he had had with Rwandan priests and bishops in Butare:
“It is a divided country, a country doped by hatred and violence. I told them that I did not understand, I told them that the whole world did not understand that perhaps you yourselves do not understand what you have become.
I no longer recognize you. This somehow struck them, if I am to believe the feedback I got. You cannot condemn these people. They feel dumbfounded; they do not know where they are. I visited several churches. I can recall particularly one church where there had been 3,000 victims inside the church with three priests.
The bodies still smelt bad, there were still traces of blood up to the altar. This is quite symbolic. It is particularly the hearts which have been broken, the mentalities that have gone wrong. And for this to go back to normalcy, it will need at least one generation. It is not everybody who committed evil. There has been some strong resistance.
There are many examples which show that even so, there were some very sound reactions by many people”.
This statement is astonishing considering the circumstances in which it was made. The Cardinal who had just been to a country devastated by the genocide clearly refused to state the nature of the crime committed there.
He hid behind empty words, without meaning and content, and a misleading spiritualism.
By describing the blood on the altar, as “quite symbolic”, Etchegaray falsely implies that the dead in the church were Christian martyrs rather than Tutsi victims.
He mentions priests among the victims, but not that there were killer priests as well!
Finally, Etchegaray fell even lower when he mitigated the responsibility of the acts of the killers, claiming that this was a “doped” population who did not know what they were doing.
As if it was such a pitiful population not responsible of its acts because it “no longer knows where it is”.
Such statements lumps together killers and victims as traumatized people, and serve to deny the responsibility of the planners and the perpetrators of the genocide.
The Pope’s messenger obscured the fact that the genocide against the Tutsi was a crime planned and carefully prepared by the Hutu political and military intelligentsia.
This abominable crime was executed methodically by persons who were in full possession of their physical and intellectual faculties; men and women who knew what they were doing, including the clergy.
These were neither doped nor mentally ill people who were unaware of the seriousness of their acts.
Etchegaray knew it. Why did he fail to say it openly before the world’s cameras, preferring a vague, nonsensical and misleading statement?
If during and at the end of his visit, Cardinal Etchegaray had clearly condemned the genocide and its perpetrators, including the responsibility of the Bishops, the Priests, the Nuns and more, the Pope and the world would have understood better the nature, the magnitude and the seriousness of the killings which were then taking place in Rwanda.
They would have been able to identify the logical reactions to be taken by the various international bodies so as to take appropriate actions to save what could still be saved.
There are times when pious or spiritual statements must give way to the tragic, bitter truth.
There are times when it is a crime to mince words about the planned extermination of a human group.
The Tutsis had the right to life, and no notion of becoming martyrs on the church’s altar notwithstanding the papal emissary’s vision of bloody symbolism.
The attitude and behaviour of Cardinal Etchegaray in the face of atrocities against the Tutsi is a very strong testimony reflecting the sordid details of the Catholic Church’s complicity regarding the genocide of this group in Rwanda.