The Catholic Church-assisted Genocide as it began in 1959

LAST PART  As children of God most Rwandans have lost their innocence, thanks largely to the actions of the self proclaimed representatives of Christ’s message on earth.
Carrying the remains of victims of the Genocide for proper burial.
Carrying the remains of victims of the Genocide for proper burial.


As children of God most Rwandans have lost their innocence, thanks largely to the actions of the self proclaimed representatives of Christ’s message on earth.

Many have turned to Islam. Of all the religions in Rwanda, only Islam lived up to its message of brotherhood for all people.

Other Rwandans, like me cling to Christianity in the knowledge that it is the messenger not the message that betrayed us.

Indeed their betrayal demonstrated a complete departure from the message. Never the less my cherished childhood memories in the Catholic Church are all but washed away now, in the blood of those we all lost.

Never is a long time but I cannot imagine being able to walk into a Catholic Church in Rwanda, ever again. One feels for the victims of sexual abuse and their hurt must not be minimised.

Yet surely one may wonder how it is possible for the Pope to find it easy to understand that “no words of man can describe the pain and the hurt…” when talking about victims of sexual abuse while sanctioning only off hand evasions for the victims of a genocide and those who survived it.

The Pope quite properly took the time to meet and pray with some of the survivors of sexual abuse, and the Church continues to pay out billions to compensate them. For Rwanda however, not even a single Hail Mary in contrition.

In the aftermath of the genocide the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka opined pithily that as a country, Rwanda was “clinically dead.” Yet Rwanda is now a country transformed, full of vim and vigour.

Much remains to be done of course and it is still a poor developing country. Many Rwandans remain traumatised and haunted by their experiences. Time may alleviate the scars, both physical and psychological, but for those who went through the horrors of genocide, they may never heal.

Never the less the country has the kind of progressive leadership that is sorely needed throughout the continent. With minimal resources, the government continues to lead and drive ahead a difficult process of reconciliation. It can rightly boast that its greatest task has been its greatest achievement to date.

No one can have imagined that Rwandans could ever come together after the majority population had tried and all but succeeded in wiping out a section of their compatriots. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that many in the leadership still mourn loved ones who perished in the genocide.

We have the somewhat unedifying situation where a religious institution which was heavily involved in genocide, demurs from taking any steps towards making amends, while the secular authority in the land fought to end that genocide and preaches love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

It would seem that for an example of Christian values in Rwanda one must look not to the dominant religious institution, the Catholic Church, but to the secular government. In his warnings against the untrammelled march of secularism, the Pope might contemplate this somewhat unusual reversal of the way of things.

Although much has been achieved, the government still has its work cut out. Many Rwandans still have murder in mind. Former members of the genocidal regime are encamped in next door Democratic Republic of Congo, dreaming of a return to Rwanda to “finish off” what they started.

There are various groups around western capitals purporting to be the political opposition, but many of whom are really evading justice for crimes of genocide. And inside Rwanda itself incidences of what is locally termed “genocide ideology” are common.

The country is not yet out of the woods. The Catholic Church still commands the adherence of over fifty per cent of the population, and it could help, but it is frankly damaged goods. How can it preach love, humility, contrition, when it has shown none of these qualities when called to? When in fact it demonstrates quite the opposite? Do as I say not as I do is unlikely to achieve much in such a difficult situation.

Rwandans too have a choice to make: what message do they send to a Church that turned its back on the principles that are the very foundation of Christianity. The state too faces something of a dilemma. The constitution guarantees the right of religious expression and the state rightly does not and should not interfere with the religious beliefs of its citizens.

Yet when it comes to the crime of genocide, the Catholic Church is surely guilty as sin? And unlike many confessed killers, it remains proudly unrepentant. There seems to be more humility and contrition in a single sitting of the Gacaca court than one might find in the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

It took more than half a century for the Catholic Church to apologise for its support of the Nazis in the 1930s; must Rwandans have to wait that long? What moral authority can the Catholic Church claim when it finds it impossible to show a contrite heart after being responsible for so much sorrow and suffering? And if it has no moral authority, what then is it for?

In contrast to his charismatic predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI has been described as “shy, wise and humble…” The Rwandan faithful would no doubt welcome a demonstration of these qualities. So far all they have been shown are callous evasions, stiff-necked denials in the face of overwhelming evidence of the Catholic Church’s part in the Rwandan tragedy.

The Pope has spoken of the dangers to society of “moral relativism” of the failure to understand that there is right and wrong and the importance of understanding that these values are not negotiable. For the perfect examples of instances of these dangers, he need only look at his own doorstep, to his own church in Rwanda.

Needless to say, Rwandans too need to look into their hearts; after all whatever the failures of others, it is they who plunged their own nation into a hell from which it could have been all but impossible to emerge.

In the end what they find when they look in their hearts is of infinitely more relevance and of greater importance than any response from a Catholic Church whose stance makes it more irrelevant each day it trots out yet more verbal contortions to evade responsibility for its sins.

It is they who must find a way of living with what they allowed themselves to become, and they who must rebuild what they destroyed.

Vincent Gasana is a journalist of Rwanda origin living in Britain.


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