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- Written by John Draper
- Published: 17 March 2010
- Hits: 115
The pope has apologised for abuses in Ireland but not yet for reported abuses in Germany, Italy and several cases in the U.S. and other countries. And no-one in the Vatican has apologised for the actions of priests in the genocide in Rwanda. Not that apologies are enough - action is needed. Strip guilty priests of their priesthood - if they object, excommunicate them as well. Make it clear that action is taken immediately and that no cover up will ever be done again. If you try to research Catholics and Rwanda, you don't get much - but a recent report in the UK Guardian by Martin Kimani spells out some of what is known. And it's not pretty. In many ways it's worse than abuse of defenceless children.
Fifteen years ago, tens of thousands of Catholics were hacked to death inside churches. Sometimes priests and nuns led the slaughter. Sometimes they did nothing while it progressed. The incidents were not isolated. Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille were just a few of the churches that were sites of massacres.
Of course the Church says it was the act of individuals and not officially sanctioned! Yet in the case of Ireland, the Church has at least apologised and criticised the past actions of bishops and priests - but in Rwanda, none of this happened.
Worse, some of the nuns and priests who have been convicted by Belgian courts and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, respectively, enjoyed refuge in Catholic churches in Europe while on the run from prosecutors. One such is Father Athanase Seromba, who led the Nyange parish massacre and was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the tribunal. In April 1994, Seromba helped lure over 2,000 desperate men, women and children to his church, where they expected safety. But their shepherd turned out to be their hunter.
One evening Seromba entered the church and carried away the chalices of communion and other clerical vestments. When a refugee begged that they be left the Eucharist to enable them to at least hold a (final) mass, the priest refused and told them that the building was no longer a church. A witness at the ICTR trial remembered an exchange in which the priest's mindset was revealed.
One of the refugees asked: "Father, can't you pray for us?" Seromba replied: "Is the God of the Tutsis still alive?" Later, he would order a bulldozer to push down the church walls on those inside and then urge militias to invade the building and finish off the survivors.
At his trial, Seromba said: "A priest I am and a priest I will remain." This, apparently, is the truth, since the Vatican has never taken back its statements defending him before his conviction.
Before the massacre, Catholic Archbishops supported the Hutu domination and the vicious racism which led to the ultimate genocide. They encouraged Catholic schools and pulpits to keep up "a drumbeat of false race theories".
As Martin Kimani says, perhaps it is time Catholics forced the leaders of their church to deal with a history of institutional racism that endures, if the church is truly to live up to its fine words. Apologies are not sufficient, no matter how abject. What is demanded is an acknowledgment of the church's political power and moral culpability, with all the material and legal implications that come with it.
The silence of the Vatican is contempt. Its failure to fully examine its central place in Rwandan genocide can only mean that it is fully aware that it will not be threatened if it buries its head in the sand. While it knows if it ignores the sexual abuse of European parishioners it will not survive the next few years, it can let those African bodies remain buried, dehumanised and unexamined.
This is a good political strategy. And a moral position whose duplicity and evil has been witnessed and documented. For, it turns out, many people, scholars, governments and institutions inside and outside Rwanda are excavating their own roles in the genocide. The Vatican stands as an exception, its moral place now even lower than that of the government of France for its enduring friendship with genocidaires.
Thanks to Martin Kimani at the UK Guardian for the source article. Martin is an associate fellow at the Conflict, Security and Development Group at King's College London, where he wrote a doctorate in war studies. He is currently working on a book about Catholicism and genocide in Rwanda.