On Monday, March 20, news came that Pope Francis had apologised for the Catholic Church’s role in the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis. The deed followed President Paul Kagame’s visit to the Vatican where he reportedly compared notes with the Pontiff.
Understandably, the gesture saw Rwandans hail the man of God for doing what his two predecessors failed to do. Being a worldly man who ONLY believes after seeing, I decided to check the Pope’s statement or exact words before joining the praise party.
After reading the full statement from the Vatican, I noticed that, in truth, the Pontiff didn’t directly apologise to Rwandans or survivors but pleaded for God’s forgiveness for the “sins and failings of the church.”
The statement reads: “…the Pope conveyed his profound sadness, and that of the Holy See and of the church, for the Genocide against the Tutsi” and “…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.”
So far, some have called this statement extraordinary and applauded the Pope’s courage and humility.
Indeed, since this is the first time that the head of the Catholic Church has publicly acknowledged the role of the institution he leads in the genocide, it is a good starting point but it is not the end — survivors deserve much more than that.
In my view, genocide survivors, Rwandans and humanity generally deserve an unequivocal and direct apology from the Pontiff for three broad reasons.
Firstly, seeking God’s forgiveness on behalf of sinners; us men and women of the flesh is what priests normally do on a regular basis. So, we can’t say, with sobriety, that there is anything new in the Pope continuing this centuries old tradition.
Secondly, such an apology would strengthen believers and touch the hearts of non-believers as it would demonstrate that men of God are able to practice what they preach.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, genocide is no ordinary crime; it is a crime against humanity; the crime of crimes and deserves special treatment if it’s to be banished.
As someone who was once a Catholic — who even used to be an altar-boy in my early years — but who abandoned the faith after seeing how some church leaders betrayed their flock, I would love to see the Pope visit the scene of the crime and personally apologise for the failure of the church he leads.
And by visiting churches where hundreds were butchered and personally apologising to those who were lucky enough to survive, the Pope wouldn’t only be contributing to healing, but would also be continuing a culture he embraced after assuming this noble office.
For in the past, the Pope has visited victims of crimes perpetrated by some church leaders and personally apologised.
For example, in July 2015 on his visit to Bolivia the pontiff said: “I humbly ask for forgiveness, not only for the offences of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”
And in 2014, Pope Francis met victims of sexual abuse and apologised: “Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you. And I humbly ask for forgiveness.”
Since this Pope has shown such humility as to even personally apologise for lesser crimes, I don’t see why he shouldn’t visit and personally apologise to genocide survivors or even consider paying reparations.
Having noted this, I should say that the Pope’s words were a reminder that while bitterness still abounds in many hearts and relationships, what humans sometimes need to heal isn’t material things but words of kindness, humility and empathy.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, e-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba