MOVEMENT FOR THE RESTORATION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD
MOVEMENT FOR THE RESTORATION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD . On March 17, 2000, several hundred followers (estimates vary, but there may well have been more than three hundred, including seventy-eight children) of the Ugandan Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG) died in Kanungu, Uganda, when their church was burned, in what was alternately called a mass suicide or a homicide perpetrated by the movement’s leaders. The subsequent discovery, in various locations, of mass graves containing the remains of people believed to be murdered (most of them stabbed) raised the death toll to 780 and possibly more, the largest such incident in recent history at that time.
The MRTCG, a fringe Catholic group, had been established among an epidemic of apparitions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in Catholic circles in Africa, most of them not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. These apparitions occurred during and after a series of famous apparitions in Kibeho, Rwanda, from 1981 to 1989. There, seven “seers” were encouraged and approved by the Catholic hierarchy. The apparitions that led to the formation of the MRTCG started in 1987, when a number of Catholics claimed to have had visions of Jesus and the Virgin Mary in southwestern Uganda after Specioza Mukantabana, a Rwandan girl who claimed a connection with Kibeho (although she was not one of the seven “approved” seers) moved in 1986 to the Ugandan diocese of Mbarara and later to the diocese of Masaka, starting a movement in Mbuye. Among the new Ugandan seers were Paul Kashaku (1890–1991) and his daughter Credonia Mwerinde (1952–2000), a barmaid with a reputation for sexual promiscuity. Mwerinde later claimed to be a former prostitute—probably a false claim and a conscious attempt to replicate the role of Mary Magdalene. Kashaku had a past as a visionary and claimed to have seen, as early as 1960, an apparition of his deceased daughter Evangelista.
Kashaku claimed to have had a particularly important vision in 1988, and he impressed, among others, Joseph Kibwetere (1931–2000), who claimed to have himself received visions since 1984. Kibwetere was a solid member of the Catholic community in Uganda. He had been a politician and a locally prominent member of the Catholic-based Democratic Party in the 1970s. Eventually, a community was established in Kibwetere’s home in 1989. The newly formed group attempted to merge the movement with other “apparitionist” groups, including the one established in Mbuye by Mukantabana (a group that had been condemned by the local Catholic bishop). These attempts failed however. A group of twelve apostles (six of them women) was appointed, and Kibwetere became their leader after Kashaku’s death in 1991.
The seers claimed to have seen Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in several different visions, which were heavily influenced by recognized Catholic apparitions, such as those at La Salette and Fatima. The visions were also influenced by unofficial Catholic sources, including the messages of the Italian visionary priest Father Stefano Gobbi, several visionaries based in the United States, and William Kamm (“Little Pebble”), a marginal Catholic prophet who claimed that he would eventually become pope. The messages of the seer’s visions addressed typical Ugandan themes, such as the AIDS epidemic and government corruption.
Eventually, the village of Kanungu was designated ishayuriro rya Maria (rescue place for the Virgin Mary), and the seers moved there in 1994. The group converted to their prophetic visions a handful of Catholic priests and nuns, including Father Dominic Kataribaabo (1967–2000), a Ugandan Dominican priest who was educated in the United States. The MRTCG developed an archconservative brand of Catholicism, and some of its leaders and members were eventually excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, although the priests were only suspended from their priestly functions rather than excommunicated. The MRTCG broke with the Ugandan Catholic Bishops on questions of reliability of apparitions (including their own), clerical garb, and the proper ways of taking communion. They regarded as licit only communion taken kneeling, and rejected the practice of the communicant taking the host in his or her hands. Unlike other Catholic traditionalist movements, however, the MRTCG did accept ecumenism and the new ritual of the Mass introduced after Vatican II. The MRTCG’s Masses were celebrated in vernacular rather than Latin. The movement’s publications strongly denied that the MRTCG was a new religious movement, and claimed that it was simply a conservative Catholic group. The Ugandan Catholic Bishops, however, concluded otherwise.
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was legally incorporated with this name in 1994, and a boarding school was licensed until 1998, when the license was revoked by the government on the grounds that its teachings that were contrary to the Ugandan constitution. The government also expressed concern over breaches of public health regulations and possible mistreatment of children. In fact, the main message of the MRTCG was that the Ten Commandments had been distorted and needed to be restored in their full value. The third edition of the handbook A Timely Message from Heaven: The End of the Present Times (1996), mainly written by Kataribaabo, proclaimed: “Ours is not a religion but a movement that endeavors to make the people aware of the fact that the Commandments of God have been abandoned, and it gives what should be done for their observance.” Additional comments in the book about morality refer to themes common in traditionalist and other Catholic archconservative circles. For example, inappropriate dress is seen as a sign of immorality in the statement: “girls prefer wearing men’s trousers to wearing their own dresses.”