The Catholic Church in Rwanda has finally stepped forward with a long-awaited apology for its role in the mass slaughter of ethnic Tutsis in the East African nation. In a first-of-its-kind statement, the Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged that church members had contributed to the planning and the executing of the genocide by extremist Hutus that took the lives of 800,000 Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus. “We apologize for all the wrongs the church committed. We apologize 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.”
In April 1994, the crash of a private jet which was carrying Rwanda’s then president Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and numerous other top officials gave rise to a massive anti-Tutsi outrage that served as a prelude to the massacre. Killings began immediately and were perpetrated by members of the army, gendarmerie, government-backed militias, clergy as well as civilians against key Tutsi and moderate Hutu figures who were likely to take over the reins after the president’s death.
Based on survivor accounts, a large number of victims were killed by priests and nuns in churches where they had been seeking shelter. Nevertheless, during the 22 years since the tragedy, the Catholic Church in Rwanda had been denying its role in the killings, which highlights the importance of this belated acknowledgement.
Rwanda’s Catholic bishops expressed regret for having failed to avert the genocide in the statement, part of which read, “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.” The statement takes on added significance in the context of efforts within the Catholic Church to propagate forgiveness during the Holy Year of Mercy announced by Pope Francis. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy drew to a close on November 20, 2016.