Will the Vatican Ever Accept That Genocide Is Also a Crime?

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Genocide Denial
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By Tom Ndahiro

In the Vatican the three letter word “sex” makes the City’s insiders shudder. Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy is endangered as the scandal is sucking him in.

His role in the “mismanagement” of sex abuse cases in the 1980s – as the archbishop of Munich, and as head of the Vatican’s disciplinary Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – has put him in a weaker position.

Recent scandals rocking the Holy See are seen to be its most damaging crisis of modern times, and have prompted the “Vicars of Christ” to make unusual statements.

Imagine when the Vatican claims the Bishops are neither officials nor employees of the Vatican. A remarkable defence!

The Vatican’s expert witness, Edward Peters, a canon lawyer warns: “Explaining the relationship between the pope and the bishops is extraordinarily complicated for even the best theologians, canonists, and historians.”

Peters said to his knowledge, “no civil or canonical court has ever previously attempted to resolve this issue;” debates over the relationship between bishops and the pope led to disputes as profound as the Great Schism of 1054.

Perhaps this issue should be left to Common and Canon lawyers to give us an answer. There are more to deal with.

Many people, including myself, had always thought the Pope and the bishops were in the same chain of command, but this clarity is being challenged by the present case against the institution for a decades-long cover up of priests sexually abusing children in the U.S.

Not Africa, mind you. Are there obvious reasons for this?

On his way to Portugal, on May 11, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI blamed the church’s own sins for the clerical abuse scandal.

The pontiff said the scandal was not a campaign mounted by outsiders. He described it as the “greatest persecution” the church has endured. His words were carefully chosen.

There came a notable confession: “The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church,” the pontiff said.

He insisted: “The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, and learn forgiveness but also justice.”

Owning the blame is virtuous. The Pope acknowledged the Catholic Church had always suffered from problems of its own making but that “today we see it in a truly terrifying way.”

It may just be a public relations management strategy, but it requires courage to denounce superficial conversion, and for the pope to say he is against impunity.

In 1985, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was involved in a cover up of a sex abuse scandal. Now that he is the Pope, the case has not gone anywhere.

I’m not trying to bounce back to the issue of the relationship between the Pope and the Bishops. It reminds me to again read the Bible.

Perhaps the right message is from Isaiah. “Wash yourselves! Purify yourselves! Take your wickedness from my sight! Stop doing evil, learn to do good! Seek again the right way, help the oppressed, do justice… (1saiah 1:16-17)

But would this be understood by the whole institution as a call to a return to God, thus leading to a change in practical conduct, to the interior change or metanoia?  Real repentance, in the Pope’s message, is the essential aspect of prophetic preaching. (Jeremiah 25:3-6)

Pope Benedict’s appeal for expiation after the shame brought by paedophile priests is a serious thing in this world of technology and sophisticated news coverage.

He is worried that the conduct of the impenitent within the Church may cause it to perish like the barren fig tree. (Luke 13:1-9 or Mathew 21:18-20)

Five days after his election, in a papal conclave, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his papal inauguration mass on April 24, 2005. Exactly five months later, on September 24, the Pope met with Father Hans Kung in Castel Gandolfo, outside Vatican City.

The Vatican described the encounter of the two influential theologians as “friendly.” Reasons and the details of the meeting were not revealed.

The Swiss-born theologian, Fr. Kung has taught theology in Germany for many years.  He has challenged official Catholic Church positions.

Like Ratzinger, Kung was a theological expert at the Second Vatican Council, but he questions papal infallibility, birth control, priestly celibacy and the all-male priesthood.

Concerning sex, Kung advises: “If priests were allowed to marry, if this would be an optional thing, and if he could have wife and children, he would certainly have less temptation to satisfy certain sexual impulses with minors.”

Kung notes that there are other scandals than sex within the church: “Time and again we see leaders and members of religions incite aggression, fanaticism, hate, and xenophobia – even inspire and legitimate violent and bloody conflicts.”

His opinion is especially relevant today, when the Pope admits the problem is from within. If the “Holy Father” had listened to people like Kung, maybe the situation would be better.

Instead, in 1979 the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith revoked permission for Father Kung to teach as a Catholic theologian.

That did not silence him. On April 16, 2010 Fr. Kung wrote an open letter to the world’s Catholic bishops accusing Pope Benedict of betraying the modernizing reforms proposed by the Vatican Council II, and engineering, a “worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics.” The last being when he was a Cardinal.

A week later, the April 23 edition of L’Osservatore Romano carried a story by Pier Giordano Cabra on its front page responding to Kung’s allegations. Humbly, Cabra says: “perhaps if your letter had breathed a bit more of the hymn to charity, it would have turned out to be a more elegantly evangelical gesture of congratulations” for Benedict’s 83rd birthday and fifth anniversary as Pope, as well as “a more fruitful contribution to the church that is suffering for the weakness of her sons.”

Earlier in March, Kung had said that from 1981 to 2005, on grounds of discretion, the “secretive” Vatican department of Doctrine claimed exclusive jurisdiction for all significant cases of sexual offenses by clerics.  All of these cases landed on the desk of its prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

To be precise, Kung said on May 18, 2001, Ratzinger sent to all the bishops around the world a solemn epistle concerning serious crimes (Epistula de delictis gravioribus), in which cases of abuse were put under “papal secrecy” (Secretum Pontificium), the violation of which entails severe ecclesiastical penalties.

He raised serious concerns: “Do not the bishops themselves bear responsibility for the decades-long practice of covering up cases of abuse, often taking no more serious measures than relocating the perpetrator under the veil of secrecy? Have the cover-up specialists of the past suddenly become credible un-coverers? Must not independent commissions be established to deal with such cases?”

Cry Rwanda

In Rwanda, the most serious crime is not the clergy in “sex scandals”. It is the church’s role in genocide, and now its activism in denial. But unfortunately, this is of little concern to the Vatican.

Despite the horrendous genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, mass murders in churches, and the involvement of churchmen in this odious crime, the Catholic Church appeared to have lost nothing.

It maintained its dynamism and vitality, which was evident in mass celebrations and other ecclesiastical activities.

The significance of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was not evident at the Vatican.  On Christmas day, 1994 Pope John Paul II offered his Christmas wishes from the central loggia of St Peter’s Basilica.

The Pope’s words on Rwanda, reported by L’Osservatore Romano on January 4, 1995, were elusive, disingenuous, and at best denialist. The Pontiff avoided the word genocide and the ideology behind it; instead he described Rwanda as one of several “new centres of tension,” affected by “persistent forms of selfishness and violence” and the “tragedy of war” caused by “irrational passions.”

Historically, before 1994 the Catholic Church leaders in Rwanda had made deals with the different regimes which succeeded each other since the colonial period, adopting into their thinking the dominant ideologies, despite their injustices and their abominations.

After the genocide, like other institutions with influence, the church had a responsibility, for the future of Rwanda, to develop a new awareness and to confront the ideology of ethnic hatred that had led to the genocide.

It was an opportunity, for the Church to confess and to make up for its faults of the past, and to commit itself resolutely to a new stance more in conformity with the gospel and with justice and truth.

Such an exercise would have allowed the institution to restore its credibility and regain moral influence in a society desperately in need of harmony.

Regrettably, certain authorities in the Church opted for escapism and to maintain its ideological status quo, at any price. It treated the new government which had defeated the genocidaires as a scapegoat, and reduced it, wrongly, to the Tutsi and the RPF.

This attitude was reflected in the official documents of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda (CEPR) and of the office of the Apostolic Nuncio in Rwanda.

They exhibited enormous complacency, and a desire to veil the evidence of the historical responsibility of the church in the genocide. This involved a concerted disinformation campaign reflecting extraordinary hypocrisy, and virulent hostility to the government and to people who were ready to tell the truth about what had happened.

This church’s lack of courage and humility made it develop what philosopher Bertrand Russell, in his book “The Conquest of Happiness” termed “persecution mania” which he says is “a recognised form of insanity.”

The fall of the former genocidal regime was not good news for some in the Rwandan church. Out of solidarity with and nostalgia for their defeated ideological allies, they were at a loss.

They were incapable of overcoming their shame and guilt and recognizing their responsibility for the suffering of the Tutsi, which they identified with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), or to get used to the new reality of a non-racist Rwanda.

At the beginning of the war of liberation in October 1990, there was a virulent propaganda by missionary circles, particularly the White Fathers, against the RPF.

They resented the RPF and sought to portray it a communist organisation, “inevitably” aimed at “persecution of the Church.”

This was a skilful ploy to tarnish the image of the movement.  It inspired fears among other missionaries and influenced public opinion, especially in Europe, which easily feels disapproval for anything called “anti-Christian.”  Above all, it pre-emptively covered up the criminal or doubtful intrigues of certain churchmen, since any sanction by the new Rwandan Government would likely be interpreted negatively by a conditioned public opinion.

At every opportunity, after the genocide, the church complained of attacks from the local and foreign press, invoking the false thesis of persecution by the new Rwandan Government..

This persecution mania was meant to cover up shame. In November 1994, the vice- president of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda, Bishop Thaddée Ntihinyurwa, told a delegation of Bishops and Priests from the Eastern and Central Africa “The church should be ready to be persecuted.”

On January 9, 1995 the Vatican’s representative in Kigali wrote to the Minister of Justice to complain that beyond attacks in the press, there were deliberate and systematic acts directed against the Church by the new Government.

The letter was signed by Fr. Henryk Hoser and Mgr. Nguyen van Tot, respectively Apostolic Visitor and acting chargé d’affaires.

They expressed themselves in the following terms: “The national radio and the press close to the regime accuse, often and openly, the Catholic Church of having participated in the genocide, with the aim of denigrating it, of discrediting it vis-à-vis the people and of preventing it from playing its role in the society.”

Hoser and van Tot alleged the aim of such accusations was “to make people forget the messages, disseminated for a long time by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rwanda and elsewhere, in favour of peace and national reconciliation, or else of masking certain crimes committed against the Church hierarchy and staff.”

On January 5, 1996 Bishop Ntihinyurwa in Kigali told Bishop Paul Schruers, a delegate of the Belgian Episcopal Conference, that “the Catholic Church in Rwanda and its staff have suffered numerous criticisms launched by the national and international press with the aim of discouraging it, discrediting it and reducing its influence internally as much as outside the country”.

These messages from Rwanda’s Episcopal Conference and the office of the Papal nuncio were quite different from the more honest assessments of “The Commission for the Relaunch of Pastoral Activities, of priests of the diocese of Butare” (CRPA).

Document N° 5 of early 1995, by the CRPA, said the true causes of the situation in Rwanda were being kept secret. “The word genocide and the sad reality that it describes make everyone feel so uncomfortable that they prefer to keep silent.”

The authors add that the silence is the fault of “those guilty of it,” and those “who should have sounded the alarm and who did not,” i.e. “the Church in general (in Rwanda and elsewhere), the missionaries in particular (in this country as well as outside). This country’s history bears witness to the effects of a substantial number of missionaries compromising themselves and forming allegiances with the leaders of the time.”

In the same vein, the “Group of Reflection of the Priests of Kigali” declared their consensus that the Church “should have dissociated itself in a clear manner from the discriminatory policy of the government, but above all from the hate propaganda disseminated towards the end of the former regime.”

This group also said that “the church had lacked apostolic courage to play its prophetic role.” This was a hard truth the Church did not wish to hear, and the group was forced “to die” as one of its members told me.

In the opinion of a Dominican priest, Bernardin Muzungu, if men and women of the Church “had had the evangelical courage, given their moral authority over a population baptised at more than 50%, they would have efficiently discouraged the racialisation of Rwandan politics.”

Instead, many influential men of the cloth in this church were deeply involved in the development of a policy of hate and in the dissemination of an ideology of ethnicity, which was discriminatory and the harbinger of genocide.

Yet, the Papacy has nothing to say about them, though it has much to say about condoms, and is now feeling obliged to talk about paedophile priests.

Does the Vatican consider genocide to be an offence? So far not! The “G”-word has found no place, in a line or paragraph in the books of the Canon Law.

It is a bridge too far, unlike the issues of abortion or euthanasia in which the Church does get involved. The institution does it with such intractable language and measures.

In Rome in 2004, Archbishop Raymond Burke led a campaign to oppose communion for politicians who support abortion rights. He told American Catholics they should not present themselves for Communion if they had voted for pro-choice candidates.

In that same year, the influential prelates Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger supported the idea that pro-abortion politicians were “not fit” and “must” be denied/refused communion.

On April 23, 2004 at a press conference Cardinal Arinze — , the prefect for the congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of Sacraments — said Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry “is not fit” to receive communion…If they should not receive, then they should not be given.” Kerry was pro-choice.

In his letter issued in June 2005, which contained “General Principles” on “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger emphasised the church’s tough position on euthanasia and abortion as grave sins: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.”

He was categorical: “While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

He made it clear that: “A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia.”  Formal cooperation in the case of a Catholic politician meant “consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws.”

On March 1, 2007, Bishop Robert Vasa published his opinion in Catholic Sentinel, the diocesan newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland and the Diocese of Baker, that it was categorically impossible for the same person to state that he or she believes simultaneously both what the Catholic Church teaches and that abortion is just a choice.”

On June 2, 1999 Vatican’s official weekly, L’Osservatore Romano, published a story titled: ‘Defamation campaign in Rwanda.’ The feature manifested the persecution mania.

“Persecution has always been a moment of purification for the Church. Maybe the Church in Rwanda needs it.” The article clarified that persecution was indicated “by the arrest of Bishop Misago” considered to be “settling old scores.”

The article asserted that this supposed defamation campaign in Rwanda against the Catholic Church “was to make her appear responsible for the genocide of the Tutsi ethnic group.”

The Holy See embraced the genocidaires’ theme that people should not have their attention focused on the 1994 genocide. Bluntly, the article says: “it must be continually made clear that there was a double genocide in Rwanda: the genocide of the Tutsis and that of the Hutus…Up to now only those guilty of one of the two genocides are being sought.”

The paper defended Bishop Andre Perraudin, a known ideologue of Hutu Power: “Clearly, the political propaganda against the Bishop and missionaries is trying to blame the Church for the “politicization of the Hutus”, which is supposed to have led to the collapse of the Tutsi monarchy at the time of independence, to their exclusion from power until 1994 and to the genocide.”

The article claims “The visceral hatred of many Tutsi against the Catholic Church is rooted in the fact that, just before independence, both the colonial powers and Church leaders switched their support to the Hutu majority.” Openly accepting complicity!

The paper did admit that “Most Church leaders, and in particular the late Archbishop of Kigali Vincent Nsengiyumva, had maintained a far too intimate relationship with the regime that eventually planned and carried out the genocide.”  It further acknowledge the Bishops’ “eight declarations during the killing were too weak and came too late to be an appropriate response, as also their reaction to the massacres of Tutsi populations after independence.”

But the paper drew no policy consequences from these admissions. Instead, it suddenly came to the defence of the institution: “in spite of its historical failings and present weaknesses, (it) remains the only independent body in the country and an obstacle to total control.”

On November 22, 1999, the Catholic World News and Fides (Official Vatican’s News Agency) published a story titled: “Campaign to Implicate Church in Rwanda Genocide?” The following day, the Daily Catholic carried the same piece.

To substantiate allegations of persecution, the Vatican’s mouth-piece found credibility in a member of PALIR/FDLR, Christophe Hakizabera, who claimed that RPF leaders had long ago decided  to “make false accusations against the Church because it preaches equality of all men and helps to educate the people; to eliminate Hutu priests, and then replace them with Tutsi priests; to terrorize missionaries and force them leave the country, because they are uncomfortable witnesses and hinder the FPR’s plans; to kill the older missionaries who know the history of Rwanda, because they are responsible for what happened in 1959, when the Tutsi lost power to the Hutu elite, educated by missionaries in the minor seminaries.”

To quote this genocidal ideology, couched in “mirror accusations,” to support one’s argument is an act of complicity in spreading it. Equally, it was an act of glorifying crimes by absolving the perpetrators.

Believing in such absurdities and hate propaganda can always lead individuals to commit atrocities, and organisations like the church to participate or cover up crimes.

The article also defended Father Athanase Seromba, who ordered the bulldozing of the church of Nyange, to more easily kill the two thousand Tutsi who had sought sanctuary there. Seromba was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison by the ICTR.

The Vatican’s media organ revealed in this article that Seromba had worked in Italy with the permission of his Bishop. Meaning: a fugitive priest with the complicity of his superiors.

Bernardo Cevallera, Director of Fides, once told the BBC that people “should try to listen to the voice of this priest who is well known by other Rwandan and Italian priests, and they say he is a very good priest, very committed to pastoral work.”

Cevallera also told the BBC that the church does not have the duty of investigating “it has the duty of building up a new Rwandan society.”

On March 1, 1998, Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a statement “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah”. The commission headed by Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy appealed to Catholics to renew “the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith. …that Jesus was a descendant of David; that the Virgin Mary and the Apostles belonged to the Jewish people…”

The statement insists it was not a matter of mere words, but indeed of binding commitment. “We would risk causing the victims of the most atrocious deaths to die again if we do not have an ardent desire for justice, if we do not commit ourselves to ensure that evil does not prevail over good as it did for millions of the children of the Jewish people … Humanity cannot permit all that to happen again”.

The Cassidy Commission called for a deeper reflection. “The victims from their graves, and the survivors through the vivid testimony of what they have suffered, have become a loud voice calling the attention of all of humanity. To remember this terrible experience is to become fully conscious of the salutary warning it entails: the spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism must never again be allowed to take root in any human heart.”

The statement came 53 years after the defeat of Hitler and his Third Reich. Are we to wait until 2051, or forever, for a similar Church statement about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi?

On July 26, 2004 the Rwandan Episcopal Conference wrote a strongly-worded rebuttal of a Rwandan Parliamentary Report which cited the Catholic Church as one of the organisations involved in spreading genocidal ideology.

On August 21, the L’Osservatore Romano, published a translation signed by the head of the Rwandan bishops’ conference, Archbishop Thaddee Ntihinyurwa of Kigali, and bishops from Rwanda’s eight other dioceses.

In January 2004, Rwanda’s Parliament had set up a special commission to look into the killings of genocide survivors in the southern province of Gikongoro. The commission identified people or organizations it said held genocidal ideas.

The prelates rubbished the report as something which “serves as a pretext to spread rumors, to judge people by their intentions and to generate unending hatred,” the letter said.

The bishops denied the Catholic Church spread genocidal ideas, protected people guilty of genocide, or ordained mostly Hutu priests.

They reiterated the words of Pope John Paul II that the church could not be held responsible for the errors of its members.

They said. “The Catholic Church affirms that genocide is such a serious sin that it cannot protect whoever admits to being guilty.” And, that: “The church has asked all its members who have committed this crime to have the courage to admit their sins.”

Thus far, there has not been a single case of a Catholic priest or a nun who has pleaded guilty to genocide, or even genocide denial. It is highly improbable that the church has ever encouraged its members to have the courage to admit “their sins” if genocide is one of them.

For instance, among the signatories of the report, Bishop Anastase Mutabazi of Kabgayi and Bishop Kizito Bahujimihigo of Ruhengeri, have since been forced to resign from their duties.

The exit of the two prelates is significant. Reliable information indicates they were disgraced because of cases of “sex-scandal” and “financial mismanagement.” Neither has been accused of genocide. Indeed, no one in the Catholic establishment in Rwanda has ever been held accountable by the church for a genocide-related issue. Not because they are all innocent.

One of the signatories of the above letter, Bishop Alexis Habiyambere, of Nyundo Diocese, is responsible for the transfer of Fr. Seromba to the Diocese of Florence in Italy. As a Diocesan priest, the genocidaire would not have been allowed to perform his duties there, without authorization from his original diocese.

There are many more cases of Rwandan priests who have escaped the arm of the law with the complicity of their Bishops. Most of them are in Europe, especially Italy.

There is ample evidence to prove the role of the Catholic Church in nurturing Hutu Power hate ideology, some clergy’s physical participation in the genocide, and genocide denial. This can’t be possible without some inbuilt institutional impunity.

What the pontiff admitted in May, 2010, is what I wrote over ten years ago.

In June 1999, I wrote an article in the weekly Imvaho Nshya No 1288, with a title “Kiliziya Gatolika Iritoteza,” meaning, “The Church’s persecution was from within”.

In September 2000, I wrote another article (Imvaho Nshya N° 1354) titled: “Icyaha Cyugarije Kiliziya no kuli Altari” meaning, “The sin had dominated the Church to the altar”.

It still does!

To deny the obvious is to promote impunity and to insult the survivors’ memory.

To deny the Church’s involvement in the genocide against the Tutsi is to deny the genocide itself.

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