There is this story about a certain Cardinal Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini of Bologna, Italy who was elected as head of the Catholic Church from 1740 – 1758. The conclave that elected him had lasted for six months and was in a deadlock.
The cardinals could not choose between three candidates; Lambertini, Gotti and Aldrovandi. The Archbishop of Bologna broke the deadlock by saying: "If you wish to elect a saint, choose Gotti; a statesman, Aldrovandi; an honest man, elect me."
They chose him and became Pope Benedict XIV- not to be confused with the current XVI ( Is it difficult for one to remember that former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s V comes after the I and not the other way round?
History would come to show that despite XIV being ‘honest’, he also had both qualities of ‘statesman’ and ‘saint’
Just one year into his reign, XIV gave out a Bull that condemned human enslavement in the Americas and elsewhere
One may be forgiven to think as I used to, that Bulls are only domestic animals with horns or male elephants, but I assure you they have nothing in common with the herds that graze our plains in Umutara.
Bulls, in the Vatican lingo, are similar to royal orders, only that they are given by the Pope and they set the direction of the church.
It is rare to find a new Pope taking an original name at the beginning of his reign at the Holy See, most prefer to be named after one of their predecessors, mostly because they approve of their policies, or share the same values and stand on issues.
The current occupant of the seat of Saint Peter has just wrapped up a controversial trip to the US, a country with 70 million Catholics and as many scandals.
The church has been rocked to its core by child sex abuse scandals- committed by its parish priests- which had been covered up by the church hierarchy for decades.
Even before Pope Benedict’s plane was half way over the Atlantic, he swallowed his pride and took the bull by the horns: He apologized for the sexual misconduct of his priests, possibly the biggest decision he has ever taken in his life.
At the height of the sex scandals, Benedict, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the all powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the church’s watchdog in charge of doctrine.
He came out strongly in support of the US priests and Bishops saying that the accusations were a deliberate campaign to discredit the church and that it was “intentional, manipulated”.
So, what is it with his new about-turn? Has he suddenly seen the light? If that is the case, then he can not fail to see the blinding spotlight aimed at another “Catholic country” tucked away somewhere between East and Central Africa.
Rwanda has had its shares of woes. The same sexual predatory instincts among some clergy in the US have also been present in our own backyards, but the Rwandan clergy went a notch higher than their American colleagues; many of them actively took part in the 1994 Genocide.
Ratzinger as head of the CDF most definitely must have heard of the name Athanase Seromba, who was found guilty of Genocide by the UN tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) who is now serving a life sentence.
He should definitely have heard that Seromba demolished his church using a bulldozer- probably the first priest in history to do so- and brought it crumbling down on Tutsi refugees who had taken shelter in it. 2000 souls perished in the rubble.
When his hired executioners developed cold feet on the idea of destroying the house of God, Seromba reassured them bysaying that members of his ethnic group “are many and they will build another church”.
To say there were many Seromba’s in Rwanda in 1994 and before is not “manipulating public opinion against the church”, neither is it a “deliberate” attempt to malign the clergy.
Many have heard of the two Benedictine nuns of Sovu in Butare: Sister Kizito (Julienne Mukabutera), and Sister Gertrude (Consolata Mukangango) who are serving 12 and 15 jail terms respectively.
They were found guilty of war crimes by a Belgian court in June 2001. They allegedly supplied petrol that was used to burn to death refugees in their convent
Fathers Hormisdas Nsengimana and Emmanuel Rukundo’s trials are also taking place at the ICTR.
Just as in the case of the US, only a section of the Rwandan clergy betrayed their vows. Many refused to deliver their flock to the killers and paid the ultimate prize- martyrdom.
We all agree that child sex abuse is an abominable crime, but is it comparable to the massacres of over one million people?
While the American victims have the chance of undergoing psychotherapy, and hefty financial settlements from the church, Rwandans’ bones were picked clean by vultures. Is the word ‘sorry’ such a big deal?
The Vatican must be aware that the Rwandan church is losing its faithful by the truckload every Sunday to the new mushrooming evangelical sects.
Rakiya Omar of African Rights sounded the alarm when she wrote to Pope Paul II twice; in 1998 and in 2004.
“The result is an ongoing erosion of faith in the institution among genocide survivors. Similarly a rift between Church leaders and those members of the clergy who were directly affected by the genocide is widening
We struggle to understand why the Catholic Church has not yet undertaken an examination of conscience and sought to identify those members of the clergy who were in breach of their Christian duties,” wrote Omar.
Now, that, is an enigma.
In one of the letters, Omar quotes many ordinary Rwandans and clergy who are disillusioned, not only because of what happened in 1994, but also because of the continued stonewalling from the Holy See.
Rakiya Omar never received a reply from the Vatican, if she does not receive it from the current Benedict, I guess she will just have to hold on until the next one.
But I am confident the since the Pope is cleaning out all the ghosts in his closet, a time will come when he suddenly lands on the one labeled “Rwanda”.
“My life as a Christian has changed a great deal since the end of the genocide. The love in my heart has been extinguished. I’m no longer the same person. Priests and nuns have lost their value in my eyes,” one of African Rights interviewees said.
“Murderers and victims all celebrate mass together. Yet we all know one another very well: we know who did what during the genocide. But the Bishops have chosen to keep quiet,” accused Landrada Mukabagorora, a former school teacher. (
These are the kinds of ghosts that can give nightmares even to his Holiness.
The time has come for the Pope, to give an ‘honest’ admission and mea culpa just as he expressed on the sex scandals and emulate his namesake Benedict XIV’s statesmanship and sainthood.
I might even add that many survivors of the Genocide would willingly accord him the highest honour in our land, Ubupfura (it encompasses everything a human being should strive to have: good character, kindness, resoluteness, and most importantly- Justice).
Just as the 14th Benedict took the bull by the horns, and with just one stroke of the pen, condemned slavery to oblivion, number 16 should also live up to his name and save the church.
Your Holiness, Just one Bull would do.