Pope, Kagame meet to quell tensions

Monday March 20 2017

Pope Francis (R) receives a present from

Pope Francis (R) receives a present from Rwanda's President Paul Kagame ahead of a meeting at the Vatican on March 20, 2017. PHOTO|AFP 


Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and Rwandan President Paul Kagame held talks Monday at the Vatican in what is understood to be a discussion aimed at quelling tensions between the church and the Rwandan government.

The meeting comes after the Rwandan government reignited its call for the Vatican to apologise for the role that the church and the clergy played in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

In a statement released by the Rwandan government on March 20, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo who accompanied President Kagame to the Vatican, said that the Rwandan leader and the Pope discussed a number of issues including the role of the church in the genocide.

“The president commended the church’s contributions towards Rwanda’s socio-economic development, particularly in the education and health sectors,” Ms Mushikiwabo said in the statement. "Also discussed was the church's role in the most tragic chapters of Rwanda's past, leading up to the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994."

She added: "Well before 1994, Catholic institutions and missions, together with the colonial administration, played a decisive role in dividing Rwandans and laying the intellectual foundation for genocide ideology. Today, genocide denial and trivialisation continue to flourish in certain groups within the church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions.”

President Paul Kagame on December 16, 2016 during the national dialogue "Umushyikiran" said that he does not understand why the Vatican has failed to say sorry for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, yet the Pope has apologised for lesser offences committed globally by the clergy.

The Rwandan leader was weighing in on an apology that had been issued by the local chapter of the Roman Catholic Church which the government dismissed as inadequate.

In November 2016, Rwanda’s Episcopal Council issued a statement apologising for the role some of its clergy and church members played in the massacre. The government dismissed it and called for an unequivocal apology by the global Catholic Church.

“I don’t understand why the Pope would apologise for sexual offences, whether it is in the US, Ireland or Australia, but cannot apologise for the role of the church in the genocide,” President Kagame said.

Rwanda wants the Vatican to take responsibility for the crimes committed by the clergy and its members, saying that thousands were slaughtered in churches where they had sought refuge during the genocide.

Kigali has also been pushing the church to strip clergy found guilty of abetting killings of their titles, and excommunicate them from the church. But the church has said that priests can only be discharged from service but retain their titles.

Ms Mushikiwabo said that the meeting on Monday is indicative of a positive step towards the church and Kigali mending fences.

“Today’s meeting was characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect. It is a positive step forward in the relationship between Rwanda and the Holy See. It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church,” she said.

The meeting took place at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City.