Clergy in Rwanda hint they are ready to apologize for Genocide

Remains of some of the Genocide victims slaughtred at Ntarama Genocide Memorial, Bugesera region, Rwanda, It is estimated more than 5000 Tutsis were killed at this church in 1994/Photo/Robin Kirk

Remains of some of the Genocide victims slaughtred at Ntarama Genocide Memorial, Bugesera region, Rwanda, It is estimated more than 5000 Tutsis were killed at this church in 1994/Photo/Robin Kirk

Religious leaders in Rwanda are now seeking official forgiveness from Rwandans for the church’s role in the 1994 Genocide.

The role of religious leaders was very crucial in the implementation and planning of the Rwandan genocide, Rwandans trusted the church and most mass killings during the genocide were conducted on church premises as thousands sought refugee in the pews.

The Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda, which has been implicated in promoting the genocide recently announced it will issue an official apology as soon as the Genocide inquiries and court cases into the role of the church members are concluded.

The Catholics, who remain the largest religious community in Rwanda, say that delaying to apologize understandable as unprepared Rwandans and survivors associations were likely to wrongly interpret the apologies.

Bishop of Kabgayi Diocese, Smaragde Mbonyintege, who is also the Chairman of the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, said the Catholic Church has been waiting for the right time to come clean on this subject.

“Prior to apologizing, the church is preparing the minds to receive our expressions,” Mbonyintege told a local daily, The New Times.

Although Rwandans are known for being religious and have over the past 20 years continued to embrace the Catholic Church, a good number of Catholics have moved away from their religion of birth to seek solace in other churches.

The Vatican paints the church as a victim not only of the mass killings – because priests and nuns were among the those slaughtered – but of persecution by Rwanda’s current government, which has jailed members of the clergy and accused the church leadership of having blood on its hands.

Twenty one years have passed and the Vatican has still maintained that while individual clergy were guilty of terrible crimes, the church as an institution bears no responsibility.

Aside from Catholics, the Pentecostal Church of Rwanda (ADEPR), which has not only been accused of playing a significant role in the killings but also still habours the deadly ideology within its leadership ranks has expressed willingness to apologize to the Rwandan public.

Unlike the former ADEPR leader Pastor Samuel Usabwimana, who was removed from the church helm after government intervened to resolve internal church wrangles (genocide ideology), Pastor Jean Sibomana, the new ADEPR leader officially asked for forgiveness saying that his church failed Rwandans.

For Bishop John Rucyahana, of the Rwanda Anglican Church and one of the most influential Rwandan bishops today, says all faiths should be held accountable for their silence during the genocide.

One of the prominent cases of religious leaders charged with genocide crimes, one of a former Pentecostal pastor, Jean-Bosco Uwinkindi who is currently facing charges of genocide in Kigali, after he was arrested in Uganda in 2010 and handed over to Rwanda in April 2012.

Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a catholic church priest is under investigation, but he is still serving the church in France even when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has ordered his trial in a criminal court in France. He was also charged, convicted and sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in 2006 by a Rwandan court.

His counterpart, Father Athanase Seromba, well known for ordering a bulldozer-destruction of a church where more than 2,000 Tutsis were hiding from Hutu militia, was sentenced to 15 years by the ICTR, but he pleaded not guilty to all the charges, including genocide and crimes against humanity.