Bishops of Rwanda Apologize for Christians’ Role in 1994 Genocide

‘We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed,’ said Rwanda’s Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center
Inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center (photo: Trocaire via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

KIGALI, Rwanda — The Catholic bishops of Rwanda have apologized for Christians’ role in the horrific 1994 genocide.

“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,” said Rwanda’s Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The statement, read at parishes across Rwanda, said that some Catholics planned, assisted and executed the genocide. Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Clergy members were included in the ranks of both perpetrators and victims. In some cases, Hutu priests, bishops and religious helped to hide and protect Tutsis. In other cases, they took up arms against them. They ushered victims into church buildings with false promises of security and then trapped and betrayed them, facilitating their massacre.

“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 bishops said.

Bishop Phillipe Rukamba, spokesman for the Catholic bishops, said the statement’s release was timed to be released at the end of the Church’s Year of Mercy, according to The Associated Press.

There were complex causes for the violence, including decades of ethnic tension dating back to Belgian colonialism. The violence was inflamed by hate-filled propaganda broadcast by political extremists.

The genocide began April 7, 1994, after controversy over the plane crash that killed the then-president of Rwanda, a Hutu.

About 57% of Rwanda is Catholic, with another 37% Protestant or Seventh-Day Adventist. The churches have worked to bring about healing and reconciliation, as well.

As the country sought to recover from the genocide, the Catholic Church suggested the revival of the traditional communal court system called Gacaca to relieve the burden on the nation’s justice system in adjudicating charges. Well-respected elders served as judges and aimed to facilitate justice for both victims and perpetrators.

In a 2013 interview, Father Celestin Hakizimana, general secretary of the Rwandan bishops’ conference, described the current relationship between church and state in Rwanda as generally good. Efforts are ongoing to repair relationships that were damaged during the genocide, and the Church is dealing with modern challenges, including a recent law to legalize abortion, which the bishops vocally opposed.

Although obstacles do exist, the Church in Rwanda is strong, Father Hakizimana said. With the help of Catholic Relief Services, the national bishops’ conference has improved its structure and organization, and many dioceses are working with the international agency to strengthen their efficiency, professionalism and financial management capabilities.

In addition, Father Hakizimana explained that he knows the Church is growing “because every Sunday, there are baptisms.”

As of October 2013, the seminaries in the small country were filled to capacity, with 530 men studying in major seminaries. Church leaders have been forced to limit the number of applicants while one facility is being expanded. As Rwanda works to rebuild, the local Church grows, as well.