Pope asks forgiveness for 'failings of Church' during Rwandan genocide

Thousands of the Catholic Church members, including priests, were implicated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Pope Francis acknowledged that priests, nuns and members of the Catholic church had succumbed to hatred and violence in Rwanda, "betraying their own evangelical mission", the Vatican said.

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in a wave of violence sparked by the death of the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana - a Hutu - when his plane was shot down.

Francis, 80, said he hoped "this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a "purification of memory" and promote "renewed trust". He continued that tradition after speaking with Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and asking for forgiveness for the role the Catholic church played in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. "He expressed his solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events".

The papal statement followed Francis' meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and First Lady Jeannette Kagame at the Vatican, reported Efe news. "We regret that church members violated their oath of allegiance to God's commandments" and that some Catholics were involved in planning, aiding and carrying out the massacres.

A Rwandan military court sentenced a missing priest in absentia to life in prison on charges of rape and delivering Tutsi refugees from his church to militias who killed them.

Human rights groups have also joined in the criticism of the church and its role in Rwanda's genocide.

The Vatican's statement followed an official apology past year by Rwanda's Catholic bishops for "all the wrongs the church committed".

An global tribunal set up to prosecute perpetrators of the genocide convicted a Rwandan Catholic priest, Athanase Seromba, in 2006 of genocide by aiding and abetting extermination; Seromba was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Local Catholic Church leaders had resisted efforts by the government and survivors' groups to acknowledge the church's complicity in mass murder, saying those church officials who committed crimes acted individually.

"Today's meeting was characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect", said Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. But the Rwandan government rejected the apology as "profoundly inadequate" and demanded a statement from the Vatican on the matter.

She called the meeting 'a positive step forward in the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See, based on a frank and shared understanding of Rwanda's history and the imperative to combat genocide ideology.

About half of Rwandans are Catholic, but since the genocide many have turned to pentecostal churches.

  • Leroy Wright