From ............. National Catholic Reporter

SEPTEMBER 29, 1995

pages 16-17

By Thomas J. O'hara

[Holy Cross Fr. Thomas J. O'Hara, professor of political science at King's College in Wilkes-Barree, Pa., is on a two year sabbatical in Uganda].

In the spring of 1994, the world became aware of violent ethnic strife in Rwanda that led to genocide. The Tutsi tribe was being slaughtered in but the latest chapter in a violent struggle between the two tribes of Rwanda, Tutsi and Hutu. Each side has been guilty of attempting to exterminate the other. In this latest chapter, more than 500,000 Tutsis were killed by representatives of the predominantly Hutu government or by Hutu civilians incited by the government.

[BTW- An invading Tutsi army, led by a US Army trained leader, just happened to be poised on the border of Rwanda, and this Tutsi army just happened to invade and take over right after the slaughter. Gee, what a coincidence ! ..... JP ]

Included were scores of religious and clerics, including five young Tutsi brothers and one Canadian priest of my own Congregation of Holy Cross. The remaining Holy Cross members in Rwanda, Hutu brothers, fled Rwanda as the Tutsi led invasion succeeded. I listened to my CSC brothers' heroic stories of trying to protect their Tutsi brothers and had hoped for the same kind of prophetic witness at the hierarchical level. Sadly, the story there is not as valorous.

Some argue that to fault the bishops is unfair because the bishops of Rwanda were early champions of justice. They spoke for the rights of the majority Hutu when in colonial days the minority Tutsi were favored with more economic and political power. It is also argued that it is unreasonable to expect church leaders to transcend their tribal or ethnic loyalties. Yet it is clear that the hierarchical church failed to separate itself from its loyalty to the regime.

There was no adequate separation of the two institutions, so when the government became repressive, the church did not have the distance from which to offer critique.

It is interesting to compare Rwandan bishops with those from nearby Uganda and Kenya, where bishops have over the years issued pastoral statements that clearly distance themselves from their governments. In April 1995, they issued independent statements that attacked abuses of justice within their countries. Neither country is immune to instability. Yet it seems clear that the Rwanda mistake will not be repeated in Kenya or Uganda.


Rwanda is the most heavily [Roman] Catholic country in Africa: Over 60 percent claim to be Catholic. The country has a history of violent clashes between Hutu and Tutsi, both predominantly [Roman] Catholic.

The Hutu are roughly three-fourths of the population.

But greater economic and social power resided with the minority Tutsi clan who seemed to be the favored tribe dating back to colonial days of Belgian rule. When trouble broke out, the Hutus were in control but the Tutsi rebels the Rwandan Patriotic Front, had been making incursions into Rwanda.

When the president's plane was shot down and he was killed, the RPF was held responsible and the mass killings of civilian Tutsis commenced. In the time before the death of the president, both the RPF and the government were accused of brutal killings and constant human rights violations. For the most part, the bishops were conspicuously silent. It appeared church leadership allied itself with the government.

In fact, the archbishop of Kigali, Vincent Nsengiyumva, a Hutu and close friend of president Juvenal Habyarimana, was a member of the central committee of Habyarimana's party for many years before the Vatican pressured him to resign. As a result, when the government was accused of repeated of brutality and of killing hundreds of political opponents and innocent Tutsi civilians, church leaders were noticeably silent. When the killings escalated after the downing of the president's plane, again the church leadership said little.

One Tutsi priest said, "Before the genocide, many people believed in God, but now they say these men who preached are killers. The bishops and the archbishop did nothing to stop the killing. They could have stopped it but they didn't speak out."

Some charged that not only did the church leadership not speak out, some within the church actively colluded with the attempted extermination of Tutsis.

Some Tutsis who hid at Holy Family Church in Kigali claim the priest in charge traveled under military protection, carried a pistol and helped identify Tutsis to be killed. The priest,who subsequently fled to France, has denied the charge.

During the carnage, churches often became the place for the killings. Long thought of as sanctuaries, this time the churches were not respected as havens. Said one German missionary, "The church was not independent enough. It lost its prophetic mission." Indeed, in June 1994 when the RPF was finally successful, the Hutu archbishop and four Hutu bishops were killed by RPF soldiers.

In June 1995 the mostly Tutsi National Assembly passed a resolution holding the archbishop of Kigali responsible for genocide and stating that he should be brought to judgment postmortem.

The [Roman Catholic] church in Rwanda, it appears, was part and parcel of ethnic strife.

Tribalism won out over religious convictions. In such a troubled land, precious few institutions are capable of transcending tribal suspicions and enmity. The church ought to be one of those institutions. The African Synod, meeting in Rome in 1994, had this to say about the relationship of the church to the state in Africa: "The most serious social problems of the continent derive from bad government, economic mismanagement and corruption. Hence the importance of political engagement of Christians.

The church in Africa has responsibility in this matter, which it cannot abdicate without failing in her mission. She cannot fail in her prophetic role of denouncing and condemning in clear terms the social vices of the nation, especially of its leaders."

The Church in Rwanda did not live up to that expectation.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey visited Rwanda in May 1995 and stated;

One has the impression he wasn't speaking solely of the Anglican church leadership.

[-------- rest of article is about relationship of RC bishops and governments of Kenya and Uganda -------]

[picture caption]-A young Hutu refugee stands next to his mother who is wearing a dress that is imprinted with an image of Pope John Paul II. The two were attending Mass in a refugee camp near Gikongoro, Rwanda.


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