The Venezuelan bishops asked Thursday that president Nicolas Maduro resign from the office which he “illegitimately” exercises and that a new president be elected in the shortest time possible.

“In face of the reality of an illegitimate and failed government, Venezuela is crying out for a change of direction, a return to the Constitution. That change demands the departure of the one exercising power illegitimately and the election in the shortest possible time of a new president of the republic,” the bishops said in their July 11 apostolic exhortation, released at the end of their general assembly.

Under Maduro's socialist administration, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, and hyperinflation. More than 4 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

The bishops cited a July 4 report from the UN human rights commissioner which said the government has committed a variety of human rights abuses, including a high number of extrajudicial killings.

The bishops maintained that “examples of these violations of the rule of law are the recent actions by state agencies which led to the death of Light Cruiser Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo and young Rufo Chacón's loss of his sight, incidents that have already been strongly condemned by the Justice and Peace Commission.”

They also pointed to “the exodus of more than 12% of the Venezuelan population” due to “the political situation, the impoverishment of the middle class, and contempt for the poor.”

Faced with this crisis, with the moral deterioration of society, violence, lies, corruption, irresponsibility and despair, the bishops reiterated that a profound change is necessary that requires the departure of the current regime and that a new president be elected.

They added that for the elections to be free, indispensable conditions are “a new, impartial National Electoral Council,” international oversight; and the end of the Constituent Assembly, among other measures.

They also called for the entry and distribution of food and medicine to attend to the population, hard-hit for several years by shortages. They said that the Church, through its institutions, “ renews its commitment to participate, along with other organizations, in the reception and distribution of this humanitarian aid.”

The bishops reminded the armed forces, police, and public ministry of their duty “to work in conformity with justice and truth and not at the service of a political bias.”

They said that in order to contribute to national renewal “we reiterate our commitment as a Church to continue to strengthen faith in Jesus Christ who heals and liberates, and bringing hope to our people, through the development of training and organizational programs that will enable the defense of human rights , the recovery of democratic institutions, and the peaceful reconstruction of the country.”

The bishops thanked the priests, religious, and laity who are working hard “to maintain a living hope and to take the evangelization of the Venezuelan to a deeper level,” as well as to serve the most vulnerable.

Finally, they reiterated their call to continue to pray for Venezuela and to “work with confidence for the welfare of our country. God is our help! We ask the intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto for this noble cause.”

Maduro was sworn in for a second term as president Jan. 10, after winning a contested election in which oppositon candidates were barred from running or imprisoned. Venezuela's bishops have called his new term illegitimate, and Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled legislature the National Assembly, declared himself interim president Jan. 23.

Guaidó has been recognized by a number of Western governments, but has been largely unable to secure the support of Venezuela's military. He has pledged a transitional government and free elections.