High time Catholic Church came clean on its role in the tragedy of Rwanda – Vincent Gasana

Nyamata Church, Rwanda

Vincent GasanaHowever it comes about, it is now well past high time that the Catholic Church apologised for its role in the tragedy of Rwanda throughout the 20th Century. Every social and political upheaval in Rwanda, from the beginning of that Century to 1994, had the Catholic Church’s finger prints all over it, and on two significant occasions, those finger prints were bloody indeed. – Vincent Gasana

This article was written in May, before the Catholic Church made its self-serving apology for its role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. – Editor

As the Month of May comes to an end, events to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi will be tapering off.

Throughout the commemorative month of April, most Rwandans will have flocked to their respective places of worship, in the hope that their faith might pour some balm on the unfathomable pain, and anguish, from the loss of individual lives, multiplied over a million times, in a mere hundred days.

Spare a thought then, for the overwhelming majority, who profess the Christian faith, particularly the three out every five Rwandans, who follow the Catholic Church.

What added trauma must these believers be forced to endure, when the institution to which they naturally turn for solace at their most bereft, is the very same institution that betrayed them, abandoning them to stand instead, with their tormentors.

There can no longer be any argument, or debate that the Catholic Church was complicit in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The only question that remains is whether, deplorably, shamelessly, the Church will continue to attempt to wash its hands of the blood of the innocents it could have saved, but chose not to, condemning them to slow, painful deaths.

The Church continues to maintain that it cannot be held responsible for the crimes of individual members of its clergy. It is time this tattered fig leaf was torn away, and the ugly truth acknowledged.

Yes, it was individuals who committed infanticide, fratricide, patricide, matricide and just about every kind of murder that can be imagined by the most depraved of minds, but, they did so with the blessing of the Church’s hierarchy, and within the framework of a murderous, hateful ideology, conceived and nurtured within the institution of the Church.

Any study of colonial era power structures in Rwanda, and throughout the twentieth century, until 1994, will find an inextricable link between the Catholic Church, and the state.

The Church was the most dominant institution in the land, omnipresent in every aspect of Rwandan life. The first wholesale massacres of the Tutsi in the late fifties and early sixties, could not have taken place, without the Church’s sanction.

It has been suggested that the Church’s sin was one of omission, rather than commission. This view too is either ill informed, or designed to mislead. The malignant ideology that would underpin genocide was concocted by the colonial power structure, and none represented this structure more than the White Fathers, the society of Catholic missionaries, who spearheaded the influence of the Catholic Church.

Indeed Gregoire Kayibanda, the first President of Rwanda, following the overthrow of the monarchy, was handpicked by the Catholic Church. He was their creation.

Vincent NsengiyumvaBy 1994, this power had only slightly waned. Clerics like Vincent Nsengiyumva, still sat on the MRND (National Revolutionary Movement for Development) ruling party’s central committee. Little wonder then that priests and nuns would find it so easy to turn into mass murderers.

They felt instinctively that their Church sanctioned what they euphemistically referred to as “work”. Even they could not bear to call it what it was, Genocide.

Other Christian churches cannot, and must not escape responsibility for their part in what has been called the crime of crimes. But, only the Catholic Church wielded the power and influence that could conceivably have stayed the killers’ hands.

Only the Catholic Church worked hand in glove with the state. It is also the only Christian institution which twenty years down the line, still refuses to accept responsibility for its role in the Genocide.

And, so we have the obscenity of a Church, preaching the Christian gospel to survivors of a Genocide in which it was complicit. Yet, even now, with the Catholic Church synonymous with Genocide, Rwanda remains predominantly Catholic.

One would think that the head of such a Church might want to visit his flock, offer some comfort, a prayer for the 1,047,017 souls so far counted, most of whom were certainly Catholics, and many of whom were murdered in Churches, where they had sought sanctuary, by priests to whom they had gone for protection.

Not a bit of it. Instead, successive Popes visit the region, and contrive to circumvent Rwanda. And how ironic, that having avoided Rwanda, the current Pope’s safety, and security, in the Central African Republic, is then guaranteed by members of the Rwanda Defence Force, now stationed there on a peace keeping mission.

Kwibuka22, or the twenty second year commemoration of the Genocide, had as its main theme, fighting genocide denial. There is no more egregious form of genocide denial, than the shielding of alleged perpetrators from justice. And no states are more guilty of this than France, and the Vatican.

In his excellent booklet, Chaplains of the Militia, journalist, Chris McGreal, who has reported extensively on Rwanda, lays bare the Catholic Church’s determined efforts to shield from justice, clergy who stand accused of the most horrific crimes against humanity.

Priests like Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, now a parish priest in France, where else. Survivors of the Genocide remember him, gun slung on hip, directing killers as they murdered his own parishioners. The International Wenceslas MunyeshyakaCriminal Court for Rwanda has indicted him for crimes of Genocide, including rape, as have Rwandan courts.

In France, he weaves a grotesque, cynical tale of how he survived being killed for trying to protect parishioners from the killers. And of course, he knows well the detail about those killers, he was one of them.

Munyeshyaka is only one of many priests, and nuns that the Church continues to protect from justice, some in the Vatican itself. Church organisations have gone so far as to change perpetrators’ names, creating new identities for them. Perhaps a trick they borrowed from the Mafia.

The Church seeks to hide behind the many priests and nuns who perished in the Genocide. But this is untenable. Many among the clergy were Batutsi. Like all Tutsi, they had lived under constant discrimination since the first mass murders in ’59. It comes as no surprise then that they were targeted for murder in 1994.

And those Hutu clergy, who were murdered alongside their Tutsi brethren, were targeted because they courageously stood apart from the Church as an institution, to protect their flock, and refuse to be instruments of the most depraved torture and murder.

It is a distasteful insult to the dead, especially, but, also to the living, for the Church to use the sacrifice of these remarkable individuals, to cover up its role in this most abominable of crimes.

In Chaplains of the Militia, McGreal suggests that the Church’s culture of denial, of defending the indefensible, echoes its refusal to acknowledge the scandal of paedophile priests, and its protection of Nazi war criminals, until it was eventually forced to face up to it.

These particular crimes however, were committed against victims in powerful, rich nations of the West. No doubt the Church has calculated that it can face down a small developing African country. It ought to be disabused of this notion.

Successive Popes have finally been forced to acknowledge, and apologise for their support of the Nazis, and their complicity in the systemic sexual abuse of children, over a period of decades. There is no cynical attempt here to hide behind the weak defence that it was individuals within the Church, and not the Church which was guilty.

Pope FrancisPerhaps there are lessons here for Rwanda, on how to move the Catholic Church hierarchy. Do not appeal to their morality, decency, or even a sense of Christian duty. Instead, aim at their corporate interests, and the reputational damage that may harm these interests and you may just get their attention.

However it comes about, it is now well past high time that the Catholic Church apologised for its role in the tragedy of Rwanda throughout the 20th Century. Every social and political upheaval in Rwanda, from the beginning of that Century to 1994, had the Catholic Church’s finger prints all over it, and on two significant occasions, those finger prints were bloody indeed.

Such an apology must be accompanied by a requirement for every nun, priest, or ordinary member of the Church, who stands accused of crimes of genocide, to present him or herself, before temporal justice. The state of their souls will remain a matter for them, their Church, and the God in whom they profess to believe, but, whose laws they continue to desecrate

Catholic doctrine postulates that there can be no escape from sin, without absolution, which in turn is predicated on sincere contrite confession. So then, “physician, heal thyself”; the Church may not absolve itself of a sin it has not confessed, acknowledged, and for which it shows no remorse, sincere or otherwise.

And rather than avoid Rwanda, the Pope should visit the country, and never mind kissing the ground at the Airport. Instead he and his clergy should do penance at every genocide memorial, and they could do worse than recite 1,074,017 Hail Marys, as they go along.

Until then, according to its own teaching, the Catholic Church remains condemned to eternal damnation, hypocritically mouthing platitudinous homilies, in desecrated Churches, turned into charnel houses, by its own priests, under the blessing of its hierarchy. – The New Times, 30 May 2016

» Vincent Gasana is a broadcast journalist and programme maker based in the United Kingdom.

Rwanda Genocide 1994