Pope Francis on Monday begged forgiveness for the "sins and failings of the church and its members" during Rwanda's 1994 genocide as the Holy See sought to open a new phase in relations almost a quarter-century after the slaughter.
Acknowledging the November 2016 apology by the Rwandan bishops, Francis asked that the Vatican's "humble recognition of the failings of that period" could contribute to renewed trust between the Catholic Church and the Rwandan authorities.
The Catholic Church in Rwanda a year ago apologised for its members' role in the genocide, and asked forgiveness for the "crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues due to their ethnicity".
In an extraordinary statement after Francis' meeting with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the Vatican acknowledged that some Catholic priests and nuns "succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission" by participating in the genocide.
Receiving the the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, in a private audience at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace on Monday, Francis conveyed his "profound sadness" at the Catholic Church's role in the killing of between 800,000 to 1 million ethnic Tutsis and a small number of moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists.
Kagame, a Tutsi, led a rebel force to halt the slaughter.
Hutu attackers burned down churches with hundreds or thousands of Tutsis inside.
The United Nations has criticized the Catholic Church in the past for its failure to apologize for its complicity in the killings.
The UN said he had "encouraged and directed" the demolition of a church where about 2,000 Tutsis had tried to take shelter during the genocide, leading to the deaths all inside. Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva sat on the ruling party's central committee for almost 15 years even as it implemented policies that discriminated against Tutsis.
"This stance was easily interpreted by ordinary Christians as an implicit endorsement of the killings, as was the close association of church leaders with the leaders of the genocide", it said.
According to the Foreign Affairs Minister, President Kagame lauded the church's contribution in the areas of education and health where the institution is actively involved.
Carla del Ponte, the global tribunal's chief prosecutor, later accused the Vatican of obstructing Seromba's extradition to face trial.
But the Rwandan government said the local apology was not sufficient considering the crimes committed.
"It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic Church", she added in a statement released by the presidency.
Despite ongoing efforts of awareness and dealing with genocide ideology, the government statement notes that genocide denial and trivialisation continues to flourish in certain groups within the Church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions.
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