Peru's bishops have called for guarantees of "constitutional rule of law and an honorable, honest and independent judicial system" as the country faces a widening corruption scandal.

"It is impossible to continue to tolerate living with corruption," the bishops wrote in a statement issued Nov. 22. They decried "deep-rooted corruption" and the "unacceptable primacy of special interests, to the detriment of the common good."

Their message came as a scandal that began in Brazil, involving bribes and kickbacks to politicians from the Odebrecht construction company, continued to expand, accompanied by a more local case of drug trafficking and influence peddling that has snared public prosecutors and judges.

Saying that Peruvians "demand a radical change," the bishops urged people to vote in a "historic and decisive" referendum on anti-corruption and government reform measures, scheduled for Dec. 9.

The bishops' letter came just days after former Peruvian President Alan Garcia sought political asylum in the Uruguayan ambassador's residence in Lima on Nov. 18. He claimed he was a victim of political persecution after a government prosecutor ordered his detention in connection with the Odebrecht case.

Four other former presidents are also under investigation or facing charges in that case. One, Alejandro Toledo, is a fugitive in the United States.

The title of the bishops' statement, "Keeping Hope Alive," echoed the words of Pope Francis when he spoke against corruption during his visit to Peru last January.

The bishops said the country faces the "urgent task" of rebuilding its political class and ensuring that the branches of government are independent. They called on law schools to stress ethics and to stand up for "a decent and fair life for all."

The prelates urged Peruvians to listen to the cry of young people who are protesting the corruption.

"What kind of Peru do we want to leave them?" they asked. "What legacy do we want to bequeath them?"