Rwandan bishops apologize for role in 1994 genocide

A worshipper kneels down during a service at the Saint-Famille Catholic Church a day ahead of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on April 6, 2014. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days during the genocide. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Noor Khamis *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-KIGALI-BISHOPS, originally transmitted on Nov. 21, 2016.

(RNS) Roman Catholic bishops in Rwanda have issued an apology for the role played by individual clergy and church members in the 1994 genocide in which nearly 1 million ethnic Tutsis and Hutus were killed.

On Sunday (Nov. 20), the apology was read aloud in all Catholic churches in the local Kinyarwanda dialect. It came at the end of Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“We apologize for some church members and clergy-people dedicated to serving God and Christians who played a role in the genocide,” the statement signed by the country’s nine bishops said.

In the past, the church has been accused of having played a role in the killings. It is also accused of having helped create the structures after independence from France that finally resulted in the genocide.

But bishops said the denomination did not send any priest or church member to kill, although some of its members planned, aided and executed the genocide.

Bishop Philippe Rukamba, chairman of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, was quoted saying the bishops agreed that the church played a role in the genocide.

“Our position is clear; we are against any hatred, we are against genocide and the announcement shows our position on the 1994 genocide,” he said.

In the last two decades, human rights activists and survivors had put pressure on the church to apologize. They argued that people fled to the churches hoping to be saved, only to be killed there by militiamen.

The apology is being seen as a crucial development that joins the government and church in the efforts to heal the tiny East African country, which continues to struggle with deep divisions 22 years after the genocide.

“The Catholic Church in Rwanda has taken seriously the just-concluded Year of Mercy — looked into the past and done what is needed: repented and asked for forgiveness,” said the Rev. Don Bosco Onyalla, a priest of South Sudan and a lecturer at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, Kenya.

Jean-Damascene Bizimana, the head of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, welcomed the apology and called on priests and nuns who committed the killing to come out and apologize.

(Fredrick Nzwili is an RNS correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya)

About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife. His articles have appeared in international media organizations among others; The Tablet, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Geographic and Kenyan local newspapers; The Standard and the People Daily.


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  • Sorry about all of those dead witches, dead gay people, dead Jews, dead negroes, dead slaves, dead Indians, dead aztecs, dead muslims, dead cathars, dead heretics, dead protestants, dead Catholics.

    I don’t know what we were thinking!

  • They can take their apologies and shove them somewhere painful. There is no greater pile of equine excrement than the notion that if one seeks the forgiveness of God, the damages they inflicted on others are somehow absolved. That making restitution to those harmed is of less value than an empty apology. FTS.

    If they wanted to really show contrition, those clergy who aided and abetted genocide should be turning themselves in to the Hague as part of the Rwanda tribunals. Let them face real justice for their actions. [Surprisingly crimes against humanity do not carry a death sentence in the Hague]. God may forgive them, nobody else has to.

  • Numbering in the 100’s of millions.

    While the bishops are apologizing, let’s get them to apologize for the deity whose love for humanity they profess an extol – who has killed hundreds of millions by His two most blessed offerings to mankind – the Black Plague in the Dark Ages which killed half the population of Europe, and the Spanish Flu which killed 50 – 100 million people worldwide in 1918.

    Now there’s something to apologize for….

  • Taking my cue from the preceding comments, without reflecting (for the most part) on the specifics of this case; death, murder, persecution, and injustice are the currency of the human condition. For those whose specific ire is directed at people of faith, of whatever faith, I would direct their attention to the atrocities of those with no faith whatever, except perhaps that of the cult of personality. There is guilt enough and accountability to go around for all of us. One may protest, “I certainly haven’t committed…enter term here…,” to which I reply, “So what,” it only takes one poor choice, one rash moment, for any one of us to commit an unseemly act. Unreasoning anger, even when not actually acted upon, demonstrates the savage in all of us. If justice is sought in the case of this article, let it be sought by the present government of Rwanda, for it is the people of that nation who suffered these atrocities, the Hague need not apply.

  • The whole point of the international court is to avoid the collective punishment and cycle of violence by leaving such matters in the hands of the nation which experienced genocide.

    It also is a sign to the rest of the world that such crimes are not crimes against a people or nation. But crimes against humanity as a whole. Some acts are so beyond the pale of civilized conduct that they must be called to attention to the entire world.

    An apology 20 years after the fact doesn’t really cut it here when you have people who bear direct responsibility able to just walk away scot free.

    Just to hammer the point home here we are talking about an incident which only lasted about 3 months where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered, in the most up close brutal ways possible. Mostly using machetes and clubs.

  • The apology comes a bit late, doesn’t it? Further, has anyone noticed that predominantly Catholic Rwanda is one of the most crowded, overpopulated countries in the world and that church officials are at least somewhat responsible because of their opposition to access to contraception and their historic favoring of the Tutsi population over the Hutu majority? Think about it. — Edd Doerr

  • I’m with you on this one, Spuddie; the fact that the priests and nuns who themselves perpetrated these heinous and vicious atrocities are being asked to…”come out(of hiding) and ‘apologize'[ What, not actually confess and face punishment for these appalling crimes?? ] testifes to the utter paucity of the so-called “moral authority” claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. How disgusting.

  • Hmmm, and did church officials ever apologize for their role in Nigeria’s civil war 50 years ago, or for their role in the Vietnam conflict, or the Spanish civil war in 1936-39, or in their party’s voting to give HItler plenary power in 1933 in Germany?

  • An apology is well and good – for a starting point – but this special treatment for RCC clergy must stop. They should not be above the law. Turn child molesters over to the cops, war crime committers to the Hague, etc.

    While we’re at it, let’s end the ways corporate entities, like the RCC, are allowed to structure themselves to shield their assets from lawsuits. Would all the sex abuse lawsuits force the RCC out of business? Too damn bad. Would the war crimes punishments and financial awards bankrupt the RCC? Too damn bad. That’s a very tiny price to pay for the deaths and lives destroyed. Apparently it’s also the only way to stop the Vatican model of business as usual.

  • Shame on the Catholic Church. Thousands of Catholics took up the battle cry of JESUS:
    “Bring to me those enemies of mine and execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    from the most disgusting parable in the history of superstitious nonsense.

    May religions all die off from the weight of their divisive, superstitious ignorance.

  • I think there is room and the need for both. Athanase Seromba was a Catholic priest who was convicted of genocide but who was also spirited out of the country and continued as a priest under a assumed name. It was only under pressure from the UN War Crimes prosecutor that he surrendered. The apology offered by the church is belated as a reconcilation process, however flawed it may have been, was instituted to help the country move forward.

    The threat of the International Criminal Court was also used by a priest to protect Muslims being sheltered from Christian militia in the Central Aftrican Republic.

  • If the Catholic church was merely a large multinational business, its actions, especially regarding child abuse, would have caused it to be fined and likely shutdown, a public pariah – the issue bouncing around social media.

  • Blaming Catholicism for fascism and Nazism is a great distraction for the left. The Communists and fellow travelers such as the Rev. Harry Ward (Methodist), Rev. Guy Emery Shipler (Episcopalian and editor of the Churchman), Rev. Stephen Frichtman, Bishop Hewlett Johnson, Harold Laski, Corliss Lamont, et al can conceal their love for Stalin, rationalization for the Moscow trials, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. It was Stalin who told the German Communists not to cooperate with the Social Democrats who together could have blocked Hitler. The Social Democratic parties, of course, in Europe opposed rearmament. Using nothing more than Marxist analysis, they argued that fascism developed from capitalism (ignoring the fact that both the Nazis and the Italian fascists condemned capitalism as strongly as any communist or socialist) and that all wars were “imperialistic.”

    The Unitarian Church in the U.S. celebrated and promoted “The Deputy” so people would forget that the chief architect of appeasing Hitler, specifically PM Neville Chamberlain, was a Unitarian.