Monday, March 29, 2010

Hey, Ratzinger: What About Rwanda?

Martin Kimani, writing in today's UK Guardian, states that the Vatican's "moral place" is "now even lower than that of the government of France for its enduring friendship with genocidaires."

The horror of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which between 500,000 and 1 million people (10-20% of Rwanda's population) were exterminated in the span of just 100 days, is such that one is tempted to attribute it to a sudden, inexplicable outbreak of psychosis. But as Kimani outlines in his Guardian article, the genocide was well prepared ahead of time, and the ideological and psychological preparation not only stretched out over many decades, but it had the direct participation and support of the Catholic Church in Rwanda. And the killings were carried out methodically under the direction of rational human beings in complete command of their senses.

Kimani's point being, to state the obvious, that an apology is in order for Rwanda as well:

The losses of Rwanda had received no such consideration. 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.

Oscar Kimanuka, a writer based in Kigali, had earlier written a similar criticism of the Church back in April, 2008: Pope should apologize to Rwanda.

Kimanuka's call for an apology was very thoughtfully taken up and further discussed in an article by Henry Makori, at the time editor of the Nairobi based Catholic Information Service of Africa (click here to see what is up to now).

See also the series "Heart of Darkness":
Part One: "By This Sign We Prosper"
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord's Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda