Rwanda genocide Catholic church
Preserved skulls including those belonging to children are displayed on a metal shelf in a Catholic church in Nyamata in Rwanda Noor Khamis/Reuters

The Catholic church in Rwanda has apologised for the role of priests and nuns in the 1994 genocide in the country, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred. The church's statement was read out in all parishes across the country on Sunday, 20 November.

In a statement to mark the year-end message of the "jubilee of God's mercy", the Conference of Catholic Bishops admitted for the first time that its members participated in the killings. The joint resolution signed by nine bishops representing all the dioceses confessed that the church members plotted, abetted and carried out the genocide.

"We apologise for all the wrongs the church committed. We apologise on behalf of all Christians for all forms of wrongs we committed. We regret that church members violated [their] oath of allegiance to God's commandments," read the communique.

The church has so far not officially admitted the roles of its members in the deadly massacre — which was sparked by the killing of the then Hutu president, Juvénal Habyarimana — in which many died at the hands of clergymen and priests.

"We apologise for all hate sins and divisions that were created in our country to the level that we hated our compatriots based on ethnicity. We ask for forgiveness that very often we did not show that we are just one family and people turned to their colleagues to kill, looted their properties and dehumanised them," said the bishops in the statement.

The church's acknowledgment, a sharp change from its earlier position, is widely seen as a positive step in the ongoing reconciliation efforts in the violence-ravaged landlocked eastern African nation.

Jean-Damascène Bizimana, the executive secretary for the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), has welcomed the church's move. He said: "That the whole clergy sat down and apologised together for the role played in the genocide is a positive move; it shows their position and makes it clear for some who questioned the church's position on genocide. We also ask that all church members who committed genocide come up and apologise, there are priests and nuns who were accused of genocide and we ask that they apologise too."