After Peruvian president resigns, bishops urge moral, ethical recovery

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski addresses the nation as he resigns March 21 at the Presidential Palace in Lima. Kuczynski offered his resignation to the country's congress, bowing to the mounting controversies that have been threatening his 19-month-old presidency. (CNS photo/Presidential Palace handout via Reuters)

LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Peru's bishops called for Peruvians to work together to root out corruption in the wake of the resignation of the country's president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, amid accusations of corruption.

The country is suffering from "a systemic process of corruption caused by the divorce between ethics and politics, reinforced by personal and group ambitions, exacerbated by impunity and abused by a system that sidesteps justice," the bishops said in a statement read at a March 22 news conference by Trujillo Archbishop Hector Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, president of the Peruvian bishops' conference.

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The bishops called for the "ethical and moral recovery of the country, because high levels of corruption steal hope, especially from the poor and the young."

They urged politicians and "all social forces" to create an "agreement for governance" of the country, which has been wracked by a corruption scandal involving bribes and kickbacks to politicians from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and its Brazilian and Peruvian partners.

Kuczynski announced his resignation in a brief televised address on March 21, the day before he was to face an impeachment vote in Congress. 

Kuczynski announced his resignation in a brief televised address on March 21, the day before he was to face an impeachment vote in Congress.

On March 20, opposition leaders released videos apparently showing government allies attempting to bribe legislators to vote against impeachment. The president claimed the videos had been doctored.

Congress was to meet the afternoon of March 22 to decide whether to accept the resignation or impeach him. Vice President Martin Vizcarra was expected to be sworn in as president March 23.

Kuczynski, who took office in July 2016 after pledging to jump-start the slumping economy and fight corruption, was caught up in the Odebrecht scandal last year, when it was revealed that a consulting company in which he held a share had done work for Odebrecht while he was serving in a previous administration. 

Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment in December, following those revelations, after apparently striking a deal with legislators loyal to Congressman Kenji Fujimori, son of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori, to pardon the former president in exchange for support against that impeachment effort. 

He joins a list of former presidents tainted by corruption, which Pope Francis recited during his meeting with Peru's bishops Jan. 21.

Kuczynski's predecessor, Ollanta Humala, is in prison, and former President Alejandro Toledo, who is currently in the United States, could face extradition. Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights violations until Kuczynski pardoned him in December.

Former President Alan Garcia has been named in the Odebrecht scandal, but has not been charged. Shortly before Garcia left office in 2011, Odebrecht donated a 121-foot replica of a famous Brazilian statue of Christ that was installed on Lima's coast. The statue caught fire from a short circuit just days before Pope Francis' visit to Peru in January.

Garcia, who claimed to have contributed $30,000 to the project, attended the statue's inauguration in 2011, as did several bishops, including Archbishop Cabrejos. 

Asked at the news conference about his participation in that event, at a time when some journalists were raising questions about Odebrecht's activities, Archbishop Cabrejos said the bishops had been asked to bless the statue.

"That has to be judged in the historical framework of the situation," he said of their participation in the event. "In hindsight, many things, not just a blessing of a statue of Christ, would be viewed from a very different angle."

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