05 May 2023, The Tablet

Pope defrocks Rwandan priest convicted of genocide

Wenceslas Munyeshyaka was accused of delivering hundreds of children and adults for slaughter by Hutu militias in 1994.

Pope defrocks Rwandan priest convicted of genocide

A memorial to victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Scott Chacon/flickr | Creative Commons

A Rwandan Catholic priest who was convicted for his role in the 1994 genocide in his country was this week defrocked for fathering a child.

Pope Francis’ decision to remove Fr Wenceslas Munyeshyaka from the priesthood was announced on 2 May by Bishop Christian Nourrichard of Evreux, the diocese in northern France where Munyeshyaka had served since 2001.

The decision is based on a decree from 23 March. It takes effect immediately and cannot be appealed. The diocese of Évreux suspended his priestly functions in 2021 after he admitted that he had a 12-year-old son.

Although his child is the formal reason for the decision, it also served to appease genocide survivors in Rwanda. Many, including the survivors’ aid group Ibuka, have called for the Church to deal severely with priests who played a role in the killings.

In the Rwandan capital Kigali, Naftal Ahishakiye, Ibuka’s general secretary, told the local press the overdue decision was good, but queried why Munyeshyaka’s genocide crimes – including the killing and raping of women and girls – was not considered.

Mr Ahishakiye said that the priest should have been expelled soon after the genocide.

“The same decision should also be made on other priests and members of the clergy who have been convicted of genocide,” he said.

During the 1994 genocide, Munyeshyaka served as the vicar general of the Holy Family parish in Kigali.

He was accused of delivering hundreds of children and adults for slaughter by Hutu militias at the Holy Family Basilica. He is accused of rape, of shooting four people dead and of playing a role in the killing of 60 people in Rugene area.

In 2006, Gacaca Courts, the local Rwandan community justice system, convicted and sentenced Munyeshyaka in absentia to life imprisonment, for murder and rape during the genocide.

He was pursued through the French courts, but in 2015 prosecutors decided “not to progress the case further against Munyeshyaka due to the quality of the evidence”.

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutu people died in the 100-day genocide during the Rwandan Civil War.

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