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Speaking in a clear, loud voice, the first Catholic bishop ever to stand trial on charges of genocide pleaded innocent in a Rwandan courtroom Tuesday, saying he -- like Jesus -- has been unjustly accused.

Bishop Augustin Misago -- dressed in prison-issue shirt and shorts, with a large silver cross dangling from a chain -- said he was bearing the cross of an unjust fate. He rejected allegations that he helped plot the 1994 mass murder of Rwanda's Tutsis.

"The crime of genocide is so serious, no one should dare toy with it," Bishop Misago told the three-judge panel in an opening statement.

The bishop, who faces a mandatory death sentence if convicted, contends that he is a scapegoat. He says the government is angry at the church for failing to deter attempts by the then-Hutu government to exterminate the country's minority Tutsis. A half-million Tutsis and Hutus were killed.

In his statement, the bishop also said he was innocent of allegations that he sent three priests and more than 10 schoolchildren to their deaths.

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