Catholic killing role

Devastating report itemizes complicity in Rwandan genocide

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The list of those responsible for the Rwandan massacre of 1994 continues to grow, and with the release of an explosive report last month, the Catholic Church has joined it.

To carry out its inquiry, the 52-nation Organization of African Unity (OAU) called on two Torontonians — former Canadian ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis and Gerald Caplan, former director of CUSO in Nigeria and co-chair of Ontario’s Royal Commission on Learning — together with the past chiefs of state of Botswana and Mali and other notables.

Their report ( once again takes the United Nations and some if its member countries to task. But in more detail than has been offered before, it also describes the leading role senior Catholic clergy played in the slaughter that took the lives of more than a million people, and the fact that they have since provided protection for perpetrators.

For the 5,000 Rwandans living in Canada, the OAU report has increased their estrangement from the Church. Catholicism has been a key spiritual force, but its adherents are now exiting en masse.

One of them is Luc Emmanuel Butereri, a computer programmer who lost two brothers, a brother-in-law, his grandparents and nephews in the genocide.

Deep anger

“I still feel deep anger toward these people who teach the word of God and give their blessing to murderers,” he says. “I felt a strong sense of disappointment. Now, after leaving the Catholic Church, I know I did a good thing.”

Both Hutus and Tutsis belong to the Church, which has played a dominant role in the former Belgian colony. It was Belgian bishop Leon Classe who in the 1800s first created the Hutu-Tutsi classification. He described the Tutsis as tall people with refined features and a high degree of intelligence, while Hutus were described as shorter, darker-skinned and intellectually inferior.

Unwittingly, perhaps, Classe set out a division that was to fuel the genocide a century later.

In an interview, Gerald Caplan says the Catholic Church must be distressed that the panel has been so critical.

“The Vatican, as far as the panel understood, is the final arbiter on the position its representatives take, wherever they are,” he says. “So for all those many, many years, it seems, we can deduce that the Church did nothing to prevent the close relationship between its hierarchy in Rwanda and a government that was always based on ethnic supremacy.

“The papal representative, the papal nuncio in Rwanda, was well aware through the 90s of death lists. At the same time, the Church did not intervene to use its influence to get them stopped,” says Caplan, a former professor of African history.

Found protection

About 65 per cent of the Rwandan population is Catholic, and only 1 per cent Muslim. The report notes that the tiny Islamic community took no part in the killing. Many Tutsis and Hutus found protection in Muslim areas like the Nyamirambo district of Kigali, the capital.

A. Gansi, a Rwandan who now works for the Ontario government, tells NOW about one Tutsi woman who sought refuge in the home of a Muslim family. They made her don a Muslim costume, complete with veil. “She is the only one of all her family who is alive today,” he says.

The report makes clear that not all Catholic clergy took part in the killing, and that many, in fact, risked their lives to save others.

“Hundreds of of nuns, pastors and priests, both Rwandans and foreigners, hid the hunted and the vulnerable, tended the wounded, fed the hungry, took in abandoned children, confronted the authorities and gave comfort to the exhausted and the heartbroken,” says the report.

Sadly, this was not true of many of the Church’s leaders. “It is not too much to say that they were, at the very least, indirectly complicit in the genocide for failing over the years — and even during the genocide itself — to dissociate themselves categorically from race hatred, to condemn ethnic manipulation and to publicly denounce human rights violations.”

The Hutu Catholic archbishop of Kigali is lambasted for his “strong” support for “Hutu power” as well as his membership in the then ruling Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement “until forced by Rome to resign” from his political post.

Saying that even the pope himself had failed to control his “representatives” in Rwanda, the report says that five weeks after the genocide had begun, four Catholic bishops and some Protestant clergymen had not released “anything remotely like a conciliatory document.”

“Even then,” the report continues, “they could not bring themselves to do more than blame each side equally and call on both to stop the massacres.”

Even after the bloodbath at the Centre Christus in Kigali on the first day of the genocide, and after more than a quarter of the clergy of the Catholic Church were wiped out, the two Churches were still silent.

The failure of the Anglican and Catholic churches in Rwanda to speak out was exploited by the most senior Hutu Catholic leadership, who acted hand-in-glove with the Hutu extremist government, which was bent on eliminating the Tutsi population.

Recently, the Anglican church apologized for its failure in Rwanda. The Vatican has to yet admit that it made mistakes. In fact, anger against the Catholic Church is mounting due to its defence of its clergy, some of whom have been arrested and condemned to die for their alleged physical participation in the genocide.

Death sentences

For instance, the Catholic Church is demanding that the death penalty be abolished in Rwanda. But it has made this demand only after 22 Catholics convicted of murdering people during the genocide were given death sentences.

Monsignor Francis Chillikat, the Vatican’s chargé d’affaires at the UN, declines to comment on the report. “He said he cannot comment on the report because he has not received a copy,” an official in his New York office says.

But a spokesperson for the Organization of African Unity mission to the UN counters that “the report was launched in New York and was widely distributed on the Internet.”


Number of deaths during genocide in 1994: Up to 1 million

Number of people displaced: 1.7 million

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