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Rwandan bishops’ apology falls short

HONG KONG (SE): The bishops of Rwanda issued an apology on November 20 for the involvement of the Church and some of its priests and religious in the genocide that saw over 800,000 people, mostly from the minority Tutsi population, die between 1994 and 1997.

“We apologise for all the wrongs the Church committed. We apologise on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that Church members violated their oath of allegiance to God’s commandments,” a statement issued by the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda says.

“Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity,” the statement from the nine bishops in the country continues.

However, the government in Kigali was circumspect, saying in a statement issued on November 23, “The government of Rwanda notes the recent initiative of Rwanda’s nine Catholic bishops to apologise, in a general manner, for some of the acts committed by some members of the Catholic Church during the Genocide against the Tutsis.”

The statement continues, “This step is welcome, as individual expressions of remorse. However, its profound inadequacy only serves to highlight how far the Catholic Church still remains from a full and honest reckoning with its moral and legal responsibilities.”

Kigali has been pressuring the Church to excommunicate members of the clergy that have been found guilty of aiding and abetting the mass killings.

However, the Church response has always been that while they have been discharged from ministry, they cannot be stripped of their title.

In a statement read in parishes across the country on the last day of the Year of Mercy, the bishops said, “Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity. We didn’t show that we are one family but instead killed each other. Forgive us for the crimes committed by priests and nuns and church leadership that promoted ethnic divisionism and hate.”

However, while the government did acknowledge the apology, it says that it falls way short of the mark.

Kigali commented that the apology only came on behalf of a few unnamed individuals and the bishops appear to exonerate the Church as a whole of any culpability in connection with the genocide.

“Everything in the historical record contradicts this divisive claim,” it said.

Timothy Longman argues that both Catholic and Protestant Churches helped to make the genocide possible by giving moral sanction to the killing.

He maintains that the Churches had long played ethnic politics themselves, favouring the Tutsi during the colonial period, then switching allegiance to the Hutu after 1959, sending a message that ethnic discrimination was consistent with Church teaching.

In addition, Church leaders had close ties with political leaders and, after the genocide began, they called on the population to support the new interim government, the very same government that was supporting the genocide.

The statement from the government in Kigali also pointed out that some priests had refused to read the statement that the bishops had instructed to be communicated to all members of the Church in the country.

“It is regrettable that some priests apparently declined to read the bishops’ message to parishioners as intended, thus disassociating themselves from even this mild expression of regret,” the statement from the government reads.

But much to the disgust of Kigali, the Church maintains that as an institution it bears no responsibility, even though it admits some of its priests and people are responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity.

However, there was also tremendous heroism within the Church and one group that stood back from the hatred that prompted the violence between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups was the Marist Brothers, who steadfastly remained devoted to forming mixed Hutu-Tutsi communities as a witness to the fact the two groups could live in harmony together.

They believed that this witness in the 60 per cent Catholic country could be strong in the midst of the mad bloodbath, but 10 of them were to give their lives for their witness.

Brother Chris Mannion and Brother Joseph Rushigajki were the first to die. The English Brother Mannion had been sent from the superior general’s council in Rome as a sign of solidarity with the struggling communities in Rwanda and Zaire.

The two died in an ambush on their way to rescue their brothers whom they knew to be in grave danger on 1 July 1994.

Four more were to die, together with three aid workers, two years later. Their bodies were found at the bottom of a well on 9 November 1996.

They are simply remembered as the Martyrs of Bugobe.

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