Catholic bishops in Mali “firmly condemned” a May 24 military coup, the north African country’s second in nine months, and appealed for “constructive dialogue” among the state’s actors.

“Mali’s bishops express incomprehension and indignation at what is happening at the very moment when, with great sorrow, our populations are facing various security, health and socioeconomic challenges,” the bishops’ conference said.

Saying they recognized the need for a “strong executive and a reconciled and strengthened army,” the bishops decried “this seizure of power outside the legal path, and the crisis caused by personal calculations far removed from popular concerns and Mali’s interests.”

The denunciation came three days after President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were detained by troops after heading an interim government since a previous coup in August 2020.

The onetime leaders were released May 26 and resigned their positions.

The bishops said the seizure of power had occurred as the international community attempted to restore Mali to a hard-won “path of normalization,” and while the working population was “reclaiming rights through a large-scale strike.”

“We are aware of the involvement of local, national and international mediators and welcome their efforts. We urge a constructive dialogue to end the present crisis,” the bishops said.

The coup leader, Col. Assimi Goita, was declared transitional president by Mali’s Constitutional Court May 28. He accused N’Daw and Ouane of violating an agreement by naming a new government without consultation, and said planned elections would go ahead in February.

However, the takeover was condemned by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the African Union. French president Emmanuel Macron threatened May 31 to withdraw 5,000 troops currently helping hold back a decadelong Islamist insurgency.

The Catholic Church also condemned the 2020 coup, which overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, and urged a “change of mentality” to prevent further power seizures.

Msgr. Edmond Dembele, secretary-general of Mali’s Union of Catholic Priests, told Fides, the news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that the church was viewed “as an institution on the side of the people.”

“People want a return to normal and are asking the army, above all, to take care of security and contain the penetration of jihadists, and not waste time on political-military quarrels,” he said.