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Pope Francis Apologizes to Rwandan President for Clergy Role in Genocide

In a private audience Monday, Pope Francis asked forgiveness from the President of the Republic of Rwanda for the role played by Catholic priests and religious men and women during the Rwanda genocide of 1994.

A lengthy communiqué issued by the Holy See Press Office stated that the pontiff expressed his “profound sadness” to Rwandan President Paul Kagame for the genocide against the Tutsi, as well as his “solidarity with the victims and with those who continue to suffer the consequences of those tragic events.”

As many as 1 million people, most of whom belonged to the Tutsi ethnic group, died during the brutal attacks carried out from April to July 1994.

The Pope “implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the Church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission,” the communiqué stated.

The Pope’s words referred to plausible accusations by the Rwandan government that certain members of local clergy and religious facilitated the genocide. Some survivor accounts claimed that Catholic clergy failed to protect victims who hid in their churches.

Athanase Seromba, for instance, a Rwandan Catholic priest, was convicted in 2006 of aiding and abetting genocide and subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison. Another Rwandan priest, Emmanuel Rukundo, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the same tribunal in 2009 for participating in the genocide.

The communiqué stated that the Pope conveyed his desire “that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which, unfortunately, disfigured the face of the Church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace, witnessing to the concrete possibility of living and working together, once the dignity of the human person and the common good are put at the centre.”

In a series of Tweet, President Kagame expressed his positive impressions of the meeting, saying that the encounter marks a new beginning for relations between the Catholic Church and Rwanda. He also referred to the Pope’s apology as “act of courage and moral high standing” typical of Pope Francis.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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