The attitude of the Roman Catholic Church throughout the country’s dark history that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and its role in helping to bring Rwandans together after the tragedy, has again revived debate.
The debate has been provoked by a recent report by the Catholic Church commission of justice and peace, which among others, highlighted activities by the Church toward reconciliation over the past 20 years.
In an interview with The New Times, last week, Fr Vincent Gasana, the commission’s executive secretary, said the Church championed social cohesion activities through the gospel.
Activities the church says it has been engaged in include a non-litigation path through reconciliation where perpetrators of the Genocide have been encouraged to approach survivors and confess to them of their role in killing their loved ones, and sek forgiveness.
Fr Gasana said his institution also played a role of ensuring that Gacaca courts judges (Inyangamugayo) live in harmony with citizens in their respective communities, including those they sent to prison and have since served their sentences.
The report also said the Church has supported government in managing psycho-socio cases left by the Genocide, among other activities.
Not doing enough
Despite the Catholic Church’s belief that its contribution to the country’s recovery process is there for all to see, Ibuka suggests that the Church is not yet on track.
Ibuka is the umbrella body of Genocide survivors’ associations.
Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the Ibuka president, said: “We appreciate the efforts by the Church, but there are still deficiencies, especially when compared to the Church’s influence in the country.”
Dusingizemungu said the achievements cited are largely isolated cases of individual clerics and are not institutionalised. He cited the effort of Fr Obald Rugwizangoga of Mushaka Parish in Western Province.
Since 2008, the priest has successfully brought together Genocide survivors and the perpetrators and they have initiated social activities, while improving their cohesion.
He said Rugwizangoga’s contribution cannot represent the entire Church that boasts millions of followers countrywide.
But this view was refuted by Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, the president of Episcopal Council of Rwanda, who said the Church should not be taken as a sect.
“Rugwizangonga’s activities have worked because they are in accordance with the Church’s principles. Other parishes could have their own methodologies and people should give them time to work on them,” said Mbonyintege.
Elaborating on the alleged lack of sustained efforts by the Church to support reconciliation in the country, Dusingizemungu said, “it does not make sense how we still have many aging and poor survivors across the country and the Church cannot support them by, say, providing them with shelter.”
However, Edouard Munyamariza, the chairperson of the civil society platform, differs.
“The Catholic Church, through justice and peace commission, is playing a positive role in the fight against genocide ideology and it is supporting national unity and reconciliation drive,” he said.
This view is supported by the fact that the commission is a partner of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission.
Munyamariza lauded the commission’s structure, which is operational from diocesan to sub-parish level, thus enabling dialogue between all the strata of the community in regards to reconciliation.
The Church’s role in Genocide
For the past two decades, the Catholic Church has been accused of not only playing a role in the Genocide–by virtue of the number of priests implicated–but also taken part in the polarisation of the Rwandan social fabric, by entrenching ethnic divisionism.
Individual priests implicated include Athanase Seromba and Emmanuel Rukundo, both of whom have been convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for their role in the Genocide.
A couple of nuns were also been found guilty in Belgium.
Several Catholic churches became killing grounds during the Genocide, prominent of which is Nyange Catholic Church in Western Province, where Seromba was parish priest and he personally commanded the razing of the church on more than 3,000 members of the asylum seekers, killing them all.
Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, currently service in a French parish, is another priest whom French courts have not put on trial, despite having been indicted by the ICTR which referred him to French judiciary for trial.
However, the Church maintains that despite all the accusations, the Church did not institutionalise the killing of the Tutsi and whoever participated, did so as an individual.
“We agree with this but the Church should consider publicly denouncing these individuals who participated in the Genocide, or are still propagating the Genocide ideology,” said Dusingizemungu.
Bishop Mbonyintege said: “The Church is not a place for propaganda. If prosecution brings someone before courts and they are convicted, what else do people expect us to do? If one is wanted for their individual actions, what should the Church do about it?”
He said much of the arguments made about the Church’s role in the Genocide are made out of ignorance of the principles on which the Church is built.
“Honestly, there was failure on the part of the Church that had been teaching the gospel for close to 100 years,” said Gasana, adding, however, that “the Church did not play any role in neither preparation nor execution of the Genocide.”
Mbonyintege says the Church, as an institution, is culpable for moral responsibility because through years, it did not condemn some practices that led to segregation in the build up to the Genocide, but that there is no criminal responsibility. End
First appreared in the New Times