July 18, 2019

Government Disowns Health Minister Over Catholic Church Comments

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President Paul Kagame (C) attends the installation of the Archbishop of Kigali Antoine Kambanda in January.

The strong comments made by the Health Minister Dr Diane Gashumba accusing the Catholic Church of undermining government’s family planning programs are not government policy, according to minutes of a major meeting.

On June 27, a ministerial government delegation met with that of the Catholic Church in what is described in the minutes as “routine consultations” to review progress on issues agreed at a prior meeting on January 10.

The latest meeting came after the Church privately expressed displeasure over a consistent campaign involving government officials publicly attacking the clergy.

One particular such incident was on June 21 at the parliamentary buildings. The session was hosted by lawmakers from the Network of Rwandan Parliamentarians on Population and Development (RPRPD). The conference, attended by government and donor agencies, reviewed Rwanda’s journey in managing population issues.

In her submissions, Health Minister Dr Gashumba revealed that she had letters from the Catholic Church ordering hospitals under Church management to return all support meant for family planning back to the original sources.

“They also direct in the letters that the hospitals should not include family planning in their budgets again in the future,” said the Minister.

“It means that if a hospital director obliges with the directive, they will send back funding for HIV/Aids testing and counselling, funding for monitoring pregnancies and funding for nutrition”.

The Minister’s comments were followed by a barrage of attacks from different lawmakers and other delegates directed at the Catholic Church.

However, the latest joint government-Catholic Church meeting says whatever was said in that parliamentary conference are “personal opinions of the individual who expressed them, [and] they should not be attributed to Government”.

On the government delegation to the meeting was Local Government Minister Prof Anastase Shyaka, State Minister in the Local Government Ministry Dr Alvera Mukabaramba and State Minister for Constitutional Affairs Evode Uwizeyimana.

On the Catholic Church delegation was Archbishop of the Kigali Archdiocese Antoine Kambanda and Archbishop Filipo RUKAMBA, who is the head of the Episcopal Conference of Rwanda. Other top clergy of the Catholic Church attended.

In total, the meeting was attended by 12 people, and came up with six resolutions. Interestingly, the Heath Minister Dr Gashumba was meant to attend, but skipped the meeting.

Resolution 4 reads: “All Catholic church health centers will continue availing family planning services in accordance with their beliefs and values, and all services provided there will continues to operate as had been, as we await a review of the agreement (between Church and government),” reads the final communique.

Resolution 5 reads: “A team of technocrats tasked to speed up the review of the agreement between Government of Rwanda and the Catholic Church over the management of hospitals and health services, as agreed on, during the meeting of January 10, 2019.”

As the situation stands now, the health centers under the Catholic Church will not be dispensing birth control bills.

The letters of the Catholic Church show that the Vatican wants to choose which programs should be available at its facilities, different from others in the country.

The Vatican has stood still in its opposition to artificial birth control, preferring to promote what it calls ‘natural ways’ like abstinence from sex before marriage.

Disagreement over family planning stance is just one of the issues that have left a major rift between the Catholic clergy and Government. The Church stands accused of being part of the machinery that executed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

The attack campaign has been particularly virulent from April as the country commemorated 25 years after the genocide which left more than a million Tutsis massacred.

Here are the minutes of the Government-Catholic Church meeting of June 27, 2019

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