EDITORIAL: A ‘mea culpa’ by the Catholic church key to healing Rwanda

Saturday November 26 2016


If there is an overarching theme to Christian teaching, it is the redeeming nature of divine mercy, which delivers forgiveness after one has owned up to their mortal failings.

This week, the Catholic church in Rwanda found itself at a moral crossroads of sorts as its attempt at a long sought for apology for its perceived role in the 1994 Genocide was almost immediately rejected.

In what was seen as a bold move, Rwanda’s Catholic House of Bishops issued an episcopal statement in which it apologised for the participation of some of its clergy and ordinary parishioners in the pogrom of the Tutsi.

The government and survivors saw the apology as coming too late, and demanded an unequivocal apology in which the global Catholic church takes responsibility for its failure, and, at the very least, prevail on its faithful not to slaughter their brethren.

Predictably the government, while appreciating the move, demanded a more unequivocal apology while Bishop Rukamba, the head of the episcopal conference, said the church would not go any further.

In a sense therefore, matters are back to where they have been since 1994, and the charade of brinkmanship continues with the Catholic church circumventing its possible culpability in the 1994 genocide, even when at times its failures have come to light through the testimonies of survivors and the convictions of some priests.

One could argue that this is a contradictory state of affairs with grave implications for national reconciliation. While the bulk of ordinary Rwandans have come to terms with their past, confessed their sins and received forgiveness, for some reason the Catholic church appears not to believe that its own confession would be without consequences.

But the continued holdout could actually have the unintended consequence of giving comfort to old dyed-in the wool genocide ideologists, and in effect defeating or at best stalling national healing in Rwanda.

To break the impasse, the Catholic Church must take initiative. First, it needs to realise that it is being condemned not so much for what it did but rather what it failed to do.

While it did not explicitly tell its followers or clergy to kill their neighbours, neither did it, like its Muslim counterpart, use its massive influence to stop the laity from joining the spree.

It is this kind failure that is comparable to that of the UN which, with troops on the ground in Rwanda, was somehow hamstrung to stop the killings.

Far from being damaging, an apology at this time will save the church from being seen as preaching one standard for its followers while following another for itself.

More significantly however, by passing up the chance to make an apology now, the church is committing the same sin of omission in as it did in 1994 — refusing to make a statement that could have made a difference.