DAILY CATHOLIC THURSDAY September 2, 1999 vol. 10, no. 166
NEWS & VIEWS
AFRICAN BISHOP'S TRIAL CALLED SCANDALOUS
Noted Marianologist and theologian decries treatment of Bishop Misago
The public trial of a Rwandan bishop has been described as a scandal, and a direct assault on the Catholic faith, by a noted theologian.
Father Rene Laurentin told the FIDES news service that the trial of Bishop Augustin Misago of Ginkongoro, Rwanda, is part of "a campaign against the Catholic Church, to make her appear as the cause of an evil which she sought tin every possible way to prevent and to stop."
Bishop Misago is facing charges of genocide, in connection with the mass killings that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. His trial began on August 20, but has been recessed until September 14 at the request of the defense.
Bishop Misago of Gikongoro was arrested on April 14 in Kigali, a week after Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu accused the bishop of complicity in the 1994 genocide. The president made the accusation during an April 7 memorial celebration marking the 5th anniversary of the genocide. Government circles accuse the bishop of being directly involved in the slaughtering of 150,000 Tutsi in his diocese, and in particular the killing of 30 girl students who were under his protection.
FIDES recently interviewed Father Laurentin, a French theologian who has developed a worldwide reputation as a Marian scholar. Father Laurentin became acquainted with Bishop Misago-- and with the overall situation in Rwanda-- when he was called in for advice about reported Marian apparitions in the town of Kibeho in 1986.
The text of the FIDES interview with Father Laurentin follows:
FIDES: How did you come to meet Bishop Misago?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I first met him in 1986 when I visited Butare, his home diocese, at the invitation of Bishop Gahamanyi, to express my opinion, as a theologian, on the Kibeho apparitions. I was there during the third-last apparition, on November 28 of that year. At the time Misago was rector of Butare's major seminar,y which he directed in perfect harmony with other members of the staff.
Misago is a Hutu and Frederic-- the chairman of the Kibeho enquiry commission-- is a Tutsi. I saw that there was a good relationship between the two and also between the bishops of both ethnic groups. They were supported by the democratic government of those times, which furthered the spread of justice and reconciliation. This enabled them to promote the faith, and peace and reconciliation.
I saw in Bishop Misago a man of intelligence, culture, a good theologian and historian. He was the leading member of the Kibeho inquiry commission. He had written an admirable report, representative of the best African theology. Later, in Zaire, he published a sizeable book on the apparitions. I appreciated Misago above all as man of balance and a lover of peace. He ran the seminary admirably despite the scarcity of means. I was delighted when I heard, in June 1992, that he had been appointed first bishop of the newly established diocese of Gikongoro, in which the Shrine of Kibeho is situated.
FIDES: Then the genocide began. Did you see him change in any way?
FATHER LAURENTIN: During the genocide a thousand people, in flight, took refuge in the church at Kibeho. The building was set on fire and all those who had sought refuge inside the church died. Then a second wave of refugees, less numerous, was massacred on that holy ground-- which had been recognized as a place of worship on August 15, 1988. I admired the lessons Bishop Misago drew from those scandalous and terrifying events: that the most important thing is prayer and work for peace: to seek ever deeper conversion of heart, and to have complete confidence in God and constructive hope.
I met Misago last year. He asked for the meeting. I noted a spiritual growth produced by the deep suffering he had experienced.
FIDES: What do you think about the tragedy of the Rwandan people which began in 1994?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I was horrified to see violence and death take hold in a people whom I had encountered during a period of authentic peace, in which-- slowly but surely-- justice was making headway. The Hutu revolt provoked the hardening of heart among the Tutsis and acts of vengeance against the bishops and against the Catholic Church, which the authorities are trying to blame for the genocide, whereas the Church has always been a promoter of peace. Those who have orchestrated this activity criticize the Church for being subject to Rome, to a foreign power. They say, like all dictatorships, that the Church should be under the state.
FIDES: How do you reckon with the fact the Bishop Misago is to stand trial?
FATHER LAURENTIN: I think it is scandalous from every point of view. A major French lawyer told La Croix that the trial is "a deadly mixture of justice and revenge." I find it preposterous that the President of Rwanda should say Bishop Misago is guilty, before any inquiry or judgment was undertaken, and that, defiant of justice, he should declare: "even if he were proved innocent, I do not want him in the country." Misago is condemned to exile even before the trial.
FIDES: Why is this?
FATHER LAURENTIN: His personality, his qualities, his influence overshadow those in power.
Here is a significant fact. In 1959 Bishop Perraudin [at that time the bishop
of Kabgayi: now retired and living in Switzerland] called, unsuccessfully, for
social and democratic reforms to proceed despite the privileges accorded to
one ethnic group. On April 4, ten days before Misago was arrested, on the
occasion of the 60 anniversary of Bishop Perraudin's ordination, Rwandan
emigrants in Switzerland staged a demonstration; they accused the elderly
bishop of genocide. In Switzerland, as in Rwanda, there is a campaign against
the Catholic Church to make her appear as the cause of the evil which she
sought in every way possible to prevent and to stop. The same scene was
repeated on April 18 against the bishop of Kigali. How can this campaign be
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