The Catholic Church in Rwanda has apologised for its role in the 1994 genocide, saying it regrets the actions of those who participated in the massacres.
A church statement acknowledged on Sunday that its members planned, aided and executed the genocide, in which more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu hardliners.
"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," said the statement by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was read out in parishes across the country.
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Many of the victims died at the hands of priests, clergymen and nuns, according to accounts by survivors, and the Rwandan government said many died in the churches where they had sought refuge.
In the years since the genocide - which was sparked by a contentious plane crash that killed the then-president, a Hutu - the local church had resisted efforts by the government and groups of survivors to acknowledge the church's complicity in mass murder, saying those church officials who committed crimes acted individually.
|More than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu hardliners during the genocide [Ben Curtis/AP]
The bishops' statement is seen as a positive development in Rwanda's efforts at reconciliation.
"Forgive us for the crime of hate in the country to the extent of also hating our colleagues because of their ethnicity. We didn't show that we are one family, but instead killed each other," the statement said.
Bishop Phillipe Rukamba, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Rwanda, said the statement was timed to coincide with the formal end on Sunday of the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis to encourage greater reconciliation and forgiveness in his church and in the world.
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Tom Ndahiro, a Rwandan genocide researcher, said that he hoped the church's statement would encourage unity among Rwandans.
"I am also happy to learn that in their statement, bishops apologise for not having been able to avert the genocide," he said.