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Catholicism in Cambodia: A few faithful in a land recovering from autogenocide

The term “genocide” is one of the more emotionally-charged words in the English lexicon. But there’s something yet more extreme about an autogenocide, in which the perpetrators belong to the same ethnicity as the victims.

The 1975-1979 reign of the Khmer Rouge ranks up there with the most dismal and heinous periods in human history. Under that paranoid, dysfunctional, and barbaric regime, everyone was in severe danger, even high-ranking Khmer Rouge members. Some 2 million persons in Cambodia perished due to slaughter, starvation, or overwork in a forced labor camp. Minority groups, such as Christians, were in particular danger. In fact, 80 percent of them would die during those four years.

Cambodian Catholics have remained “very discreet on the subject” of the Khmer Rouge, says Fr. Damien Fahrner, a French priest from the Paris Foreign Missions Society who serves at the Child Jesus Parish in the capital city of Phnom Penh.

The country now tends to have a generational gap between older persons (who personally endured the horrors) and a younger generation that often seems to have only a scant idea of the astounding brutality that ravaged their homeland.

One of the most notorious violators, Kaing Guek Eav aka “Comrade Duch,” died at age 77 last September. ‘Duch’ was the former Director of the Khmer Rouge prison S-21 (better-known as “Tuol Sleng”). Here more than 18,000 men, women, and children were interrogated and tortured before being executed at the nearby Killing Fields.

When the Khmer Rouge regime crumbled, Duch fled Phnom Penh and for many years lived under an assumed name in remote parts of Cambodia. He also converted to Christianity, before eventually turning himself in to authorities.

Unlike other Khmer Rouge leaders, Duch admitted to committing severe crimes. However, he later sought leniency by contesting that he was merely following the orders of a rogue regime. A United Nations-backed Cambodia Tribunal found him guilty of crimes against humanity, murder, and torture. He ultimately received a life-sentence.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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