Speaking at the end of their general assembly, the Venezuelan bishops, “As shepherds of the Church in Venezuela, echoing the clamors of the immense majority of our people,” demand the end of the “inhuman repression,” the freeing of political prisoners and the opening of a humanitarian corridor that would allow international aid agencies to bring medicine and food into the country.
They also urged the government of Nicolas Maduro to call for elections and to dismantle and censure the pro-regime civilian armed groups.
Elections, the freeing of political prisoners, and a humanitarian corridor have long been demands of Church officials, and were listed in a December letter signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State and former papal representative in Venezuela, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin. His missive was addressed both to Maduro and the opposition.
The bishops’ request came in an “Urgent message to Catholics and people of good will in Venezuela,” released on Wednesday, at the end of their general assembly.
Opening the message, they offer Pope Francis’s greeting and blessing, saying that beyond “following closely the situation of our nation, (he) invites us to look for urgent solutions in peace and concord among all.
“We feel united and in full communion with him, who signaled to us: ‘My voice resounds too in the voice of the Venezuelan bishops,’” they wrote.
In the last three months, at least 91 people have died in clashes between protesters and security forces. The ongoing unrest erupted over plans by Maduro to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of power, to once again delay elections, and to rewrite the constitution.
Urging an end to the ongoing violence, the bishops write that it’s easy to see how violence has become structural, with various expressions. From “irrational repression,” with its “painful quota of death and wounded,” to persecution and the ignoring of the people’s basic needs.
They also acknowledge that the repression has caused, in some occasions, violent responses, which contributes to creating a tense and anarchic climate. Yet they put most of the blame on the government, also denouncing the fact that civilians are being tried in military courts, which violates the constitution, and that many of the young people detained for dissenting are being tortured and mistreated.
“There is a disregard for human dignity expressed in the violation and continued denial of human rights by the authorities,” the bishops wrote.
Addressing the security forces in the country, the bishops reminded them that they are called to serve the Venezuelan people, not the regime, party, or leader in power.
“We appeal to the conscience of all the members [of the security forces]: Don’t forget that you too are part of the people, and that you will have to answer for your acts both to human and divine justice,” they wrote.