Catholic Church apologizes for hand in 1994 Rwanda genocide

The Catholic Church in Rwanda has admitted and apologized for its role in the 1994 genocide and expressed regret for violating God's commands.

(Reuters/Corinne Dufka)A Rwandan refugee girl stares at a mass grave where dozens of bodies have been laid to rest outside Kigali in this July 20, 1994 file photo.

In a statement released by the conference of Catholic bishops and read out in parishes across Rwanda on Sunday, the church acknowledged its hand in planning, aiding, and executing the 1994 genocide. The massacres by Hutu extremists left more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, The Associated Press details.

"We apologize for all the wrongs the church committed. We apologize on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed," the conference of Catholic bishops said in a statement. "We regret that church members violated (their) oath of allegiance to God's commandments."

The three-month rampage stemmed from the death of Rwanda's Hutu president after his plane was shot down by unknown gunmen. Some survivors of the 1994 genocide said many of the victims were killed by priests, nuns, and clergymen, while the government says many of them died in churches where they sought help.

"Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity," the statement continued. "We didn't show that we are one family but instead killed each other."

Recently, two Rwandans extradited from the Netherlands pleaded not guilty to crimes they allegedly committed during the 1994 genocide. Jean Claude Iyamuremye and Jean Baptiste Mugimba have both been charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, and extermination as a crime against humanity, among several charges, Reuters reports.

Iyamuremye and Mugimba were arrested while they were living in the Netherlands and were brought to Kigali on Nov. 12. So far, the Rwandan government has issued more than 600 arrest warrants globally but there are many suspects in the massacre who are still at large.

The church's admission and apology is seen as a positive step toward reconciliation. Rwandan genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro hopes that the statement will be instrumental in fostering unity among the citizens.