The Catholic Church in Rwanda has come under fire for appealing to government to assess punishments for elderly and sick genocide convicts so that they can be integrated into reconciliation programmes.
In a communication to Christians across the country released on April 7, 2019, the church came short of requesting for early release of the convicts.
However, days after the church backtracked, saying it regretted the timing of their declaration but standing by their statement.
“We apologise because we announced it during this difficult commemoration period,” the Church said in the statement signed by the Bishop of Huye Diocese Mgr. Phillippe Rukamba. Bishop Rukamba is also the president of the episcopal Conference.
“There are sections of the statement that may have especially the one requesting for commuting sentences of old and sick genocide convicts. We regret that the message hurt people especially considering the period during which it was communicated. This was not our intention. We apologise.”
The president of IBUKA, the umbrella organisation of survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi expressed dissatisfaction over the apology of Catholic Church in the earlier statement.
Prof Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu said that the apology of the Catholic Church is wanting, telling the church that these convicts were not remorseful for what they did as they have had so many avenues to ask for forgiveness from their victims and they have failed to do so.
The request was contained in the message, episcopal conference delivered to Christians for the 25th commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi on 7th April 2019.
“Why does the Catholic Church want the convicts to be pardoned yet they are reluctant to repent. Our concern is beyond what the church is apologising for. The Catholic Church may seek apology over communicating the message during the commemoration period with the intention of doing it again after this period. We blame two things. The time during which the apology is sought and asking for a reduced sentence of these convicts”
He explained that “The statement of the Catholic Church is wanting. We think there are people who don’t feel the severity of genocide crime. Those people in advanced ages are the ones who developed genocide ideology. Why don’t they want them punished? Their sickness might persist after release because they are old. Do they want someone handed a life sentence to be commuted? It is like abolishing the punishment, or they might not be aware of the severity of genocide crime.”
The government of Rwanda and the Catholic Church have had unease relationship since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, with the church accused of taking part in the mass killings.
Two years ago, the Catholic church in Rwanda apologised for the role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, saying it regretted the actions of those who participated in the massacres.
“We apologise for all the wrongs the church committed. We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that church members violated their oath of allegiance to God’s commandments,” said the statement
The statement acknowledged that church members planned, aided and carried out the Genocide, in which more than 1,000,000 were killed by Hutu extremists.
In the years since the Genocide, Catholic church had resisted efforts by the government and survivors to acknowledge the church’s complicity in mass murder, saying those church officials who committed crimes acted individually.
Many of the victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns while thousands died in churches where they had sought refuge.