CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- The Catholic Church leadership in Caracas, Venezuela, said the ruling government's failure to recognize the opposition-controlled National Assembly represents "a real situation of dictatorship."
In a joint statement with other church officials, Archbishop of Caracas Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino said that President Nicolas Maduro and Venezuelan institutions' continued policy of declaring void the National Assembly disrespects elections carried out in December 2015 in which the opposition gained a majority of the unicameral legislature.
"Failure to respect the Assembly constitutes a real situation of dictatorship for ignoring the popular will expressed in December of 2015 ... [when] the people indicated mostly not to agree with the current government," Savino and other church officials said in the statement that will be read aloud during mass on Jan. 1, the Catholic Church's World Day of Peace.
The National Assembly was effectively stripped of power after the opposition gained control. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, or TSJ, -- Venezuela's highest court -- late last year ruled the parliament void until three suspended opposition members were removed from parliament amid an investigation into electoral fraud.
The removal of the three members would remove the opposition's two-thirds qualified majority, also known as supermajority. Despite the opposition yielding by allowing the suspended members to resign from their posts in November, the National Assembly is still not recognized by the TSJ, which alleges the parliament is in contempt because it oversteps its authority.
Earlier this month, in a constitutional sidestep, the TSJ swore in new National Electoral Council, or CNE, which is supposed to be the responsibility of parliament.
Throughout the year, the TSJ ruled unconstitutional or ruled void numerous bills that passed in the parliament, including one granting amnesty to political prisoners.
Church leadership said the topic of political prisoners is one of the most urgent issues needed to be resolved in 2017.
"We call for the release of prisoners for acts connected with political activities," the church leaders said. "Both the judiciary and the government have legal and constitutional instruments to immediately release the majority of those citizens, more than 100, who suffer unjust imprisonment."