OXFORD, England (CNS) — Rwanda’s Catholic Church said it hopes to reach agreement with the government of President Paul Kagame after senior officials accused the church of hampering birth control policy by refusing contraception and abortion at its hospitals and clinics.
“What’s important is for people to know we are in a dialogue. Once we are done with talks, we’ll come up with a clear agreement,” Bishop Philippe Rukamba of Butare, bishops’ conference president, told Rwanda’s The New Times daily July 22.
“Under our current accord, we have many provisions, from use of medicines to management of staff and infrastructure, and in these ongoing talks, we will also discuss the provision of family planning services,” the bishop said. “Without dialogue, people start being confrontational, and that isn’t needed.”
Bishop Rukamba spoke after meeting government officials in the capital Kigali to discuss accusations that Catholic teaching was impeding government attempts to restrict population growth.
In a June 21 meeting at the parliament, Rwanda’s health minister, Diane Gashumba, said she had attempted to “educate the church” about the need for “full family planning services,” including contraception, at all health facilities, but said the church was “frustrating efforts to control births” by “allowing only natural contraception.”
“We can’t continue with a situation where health care professionals trained and paid by the government can’t do their job because the church has prevented them,” the minister told legislators.
“Our many consultations with church leaders haven’t produced any useful results. It’s time our constitution was respected and our country’s laws enforced, since dialogue with the church hasn’t worked,” she said.
Rwanda is Africa’s most densely population country. Catholics comprise half of the country’s 12.2 million people.
The church runs a third of all hospitals and clinics, many with state-paid medical staff, although many Catholic facilities adjoin government-run “health posts” that provide contraception and abortion.
In a pastoral message in October, the bishops’ conference said the country was “threatened by a pandemic of promiscuity,” that endangered “human life, the family and even the entire country.” The message said any turn to abortion risked divine punishment.
“We hope the state will not force doctors in public hospitals to facilitate abortion contrary to their objection of conscience,” the bishops said.
“We would like tell all staff in our medical centers that we can never allow this sin of abortion, and we want Christian doctors to take the lead in protecting life,” they said.
However, a November report by Rwanda’s Senate warned that religious beliefs were “derailing birth control,” alongside poor policy planning and coordination.
Meanwhile, Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente said the government planned to build 1,700 more “health posts” by 2024, pending arrangements with the Catholic Church, according to The New Times.
Four-fifths of Rwandans work in agriculture, with about 44% living below the poverty line, according to the United Nations. A government program, launched in 2006, seeks to cut fertility levels from 5.8 children per woman in 2000 to 2.3 by 2050.
In a statement after its May plenary meeting, the Rwandan bishops’ conference said the church remained committed “to solving the problems of the Rwandan family,” including “extreme poverty of children” and an increase in early pregnancies, but said it also feared society was “gradually losing its standards.”
In a time to build, CatholicPhilly.com connects people and communities
As society emerges from the loss and separation of the pandemic, CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you join in our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103