Some disconcerting news was shared on May 21 that the Catholic Church in Rwanda had not only rejected ex-communicating its clergy who participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but was also already welcoming back into its fold priests and nuns who were convicted of genocide crimes.
Records show that at least 100 priests and nuns directly participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and only 30 have so far been convicted. Of the convicted, at least three have completed their sentences and returned to their work stations in Butare and Cyangugu Dioceses.
Under the headline: “Catholic Church Rejects Government Call To Excommunicate Over 30 clergy Convicted Of Genocide”, The Chronicles newspaper quoted Archbishop Filipo Rukamba, who is the head of the Catholic Church in Rwanda as saying “there is nothing we can do because we cannot ex-communicate them.”
Perhaps to tamper moral outrage this would engender, Archbishop Rukamba added, “…what we do [when genocide convicts return after serving their sentences) is transfer them to other roles like office work.
They are not allowed to return to lead Mass, manage a parish or deputise the parish priest.” Ok. But why can’t the Church ex-communicate them? And why must they be welcomed back to work in the church after desecrating their vows?
To Archbishop Rukabamba, they can’t be ex-communicated because there is “no church decree that deals with the particular case of catholic clergy convicted of genocide.”
Although this explanation might be based on reality within the Church; it’s unconvincing since, even when the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped in July 1994, there was no law punishing the crime of genocide in Rwanda nor was it there in 1945 after the Holocaust.
In both cases, such laws had to be enacted; for, laws and decrees are, in part, a consequence at solving new problems and dealing with new realities.
So why can’t the Catholic church enact a decree to deal with its genocidaires?
To some, it might be that, being one of the most bureaucratic and hierarchical institution in the world, it’s difficult for such a decree to be imagined and enacted since the Vatican decides such matters.
Others might say that receiving back their members who have completed serving their prison sentences is a sign of a “forgiving” and “merciful’ church and therefore sending a message of forgiveness to its members.
On a godlier note however, I believe there is a lot that has been happening to demonstrate that the Catholic church is either sympathetic to genocide convicts or faces a broader moral crisis to execute its expected role in society.
For instance, as the country prepared to commemorate quarter a century after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, on March 25, the Catholic church’s highest decision-making body, the Episcopal Conference sent a letter to the government calling for the release of “elderly” and “ill” genocide convicts.
The communication headlined as the “Episcopal Letter” stated in part: “…there [are] those in prisons due to the crime of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, including the elderly and those with various illnesses.
These people must be supported, reducing their sentences could be an avenue; but they should also join the programme of continuing to seek forgiveness and reuniting with those they wronged.
We are saddened from hearing that there are still those who have been stigmatised by their families who no longer visit them. We thank Christians who continue to support them, and urge others not to abandon them.”
Although the letter also advocated for helping survivors as well, many wondered why the Catholic church’s leadership thought it appropriate to call for helping elderly and sickly convicts of genocide at the time the country was remembering the horrors these visited on the country 25 years ago.
Remember, although Pope Francis apologised in March 2017 and “implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church” in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as an institution, the Catholic Church has never really owned up.
In fact, while evidence shows that over 130,000 individuals were killed in at least 48 parishes and in Churches opened up to killers by the Clergy, the Catholic church still see this as actions of individuals rather than the institution.
Twenty-five years later, the same individuals who desecrated the House of God are being warmly welcomed back to the same institution that claim not to have supported the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi!
Resolving this moral crisis will require leadership that isn’t only ready to ex-communicate its genocidaires but also willing to reform the Catholic church away from emphasising rituals to healing hearts of men and women.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: email@example.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba