Pope asks forgiveness for Church role in Rwanda genocide

Pope Francis

"He implored anew God's forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission", said a Vatican statement released March 20 after the meeting of the pope and president.

Receiving the the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in a private audience at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Monday, Francis conveyed his "profound sadness" at the Catholic Church's role in the killing of between 800,000 to 1 million ethnic Tutsis and a small number of moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists.

Kagame, a Tutsi, was the leader of a rebel force that helped bring an end to the slaughter. "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.

"Great day/moment and meeting with Pope Francis...a new chapter in relations btwn Rw& Catholic church/Holy See", he said.

The Guardian reports that while around 200 priests and nuns were among those killed in 1994, other members of the Church "were complicit in, or even took part, in the violence".

5,000 Tutsis were killed in August 15, 1994 in the Ntarama Catholic Church, a site of one of the biggest massacres during the period.

Several Catholic priests as well as nuns and brothers were charged with participating in the genocide and tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and by a Belgian court, leading to some convictions while others were acquitted.

In the years since the genocide, the local Catholic Church 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. The UN declared it a genocide.

Pope Francis and the Vatican have remained tight lipped on the Church's involvement in the genocide, traditionally stating that it was not responsible for the mass killings in any way.

However, Bizimana noted, the current pontiff and the Vatican need to make an extra step and do whatever it takes to rein in or condemn catholic priests like Fortunatus Rudakemwa, Thomas Nahimana and Theophile Murengerantwari "who continue to spread genocide ideology and denial [abroad]", which are crimes against humanity.

Rwanda's foreign affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo said today that the Vatican talks between Francis and Kagame were "characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect". But the Rwandan government rejected the apology as "profoundly inadequate" and demanded a statement from the Vatican on the matter. "It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church".

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