BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNS) — Catholic bishops in the Central African Republic said their country’s occupation by Islamist-led rebels has left its livelihood “looted and destroyed” and its “social fabric completely torn up.”

“Never has our country known a conflict so grave in its magnitude and duration — never has any military-political disorder spread through our territory with such a violent impact,” the bishops’ conference said.

“The very men supposed to be assuring security for people have turned into their executioners, arrogating to themselves the right to commit every outrage,” the bishops said, referring to members of the Seleka alliance who took over the presidency in late March.

“These Seleka elements, mostly Chadians and Sudanese, can kill, rape, pillage and ransack with impunity, burning houses, barns and whole villages in reprisal for the legitimate defense put up by the population,” the bishops said.

Their statement, dated June 23, was released in late June after the bishops’ 11-day plenary in Bimbo.

The bishops said “no final balance” had been made of “the loss of human lives, robberies, pillagings and village burnings,” which had left families “illegally stripped of homes occupied by strong men or armed bands.”

“The social fabric has been completely torn up, social values and reference points travestied, our people subjected to a heinous trauma whose consequences are shown by suicide and depression,” the bishops said.

“Never has a crisis caused such systematic and programmed destruction of what remained of our country’s slender industrial and economic fabric. What inheritance will we leave to the rising generation?”

The Catholic Church’s nine dioceses make up 25-30 percent of the 5.2 million inhabitants of the Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries. Muslims make up 10-15 percent of the population.

Seleka, composed partly of Arab-speaking Islamists, launched an offensive in December, accusing President Francois Bozize of reneging power-sharing promises. After Seleka insurgents seized the capital, Bangui, March 24, they suspended the constitution.

The bishops said armed Seleka groups had now established a “parallel administration” in much of the country and were destroying archives in an apparent bid to “annihilate the national memory.”

It added that the Catholic Church was “attached to the principle of secularity” which had shaped the Central African Republic and said bishops were appalled at the “ardor and determination” with which Seleka elements have targeted Christian homes and churches.

“The unity of the Central African people has been harshly tested by the deplorable complicity shown by some of our Muslim brothers,” said the bishops, who held talks June 20 with the country’s self-proclaimed president, Michel Djotodia.

“Do these attitudes reflect a hidden agenda, as certain things appear to portend? We nevertheless urge the political authorities to do everything not to exacerbate these tensions, whose explosion would cause great evil,” the bishops said.

Human rights sources said a priest, attempting to protect a parishioner, was killed by Seleka members June 28 near the rebel-held Catholic see of Bangassou.

The church’s Caritas charity said it was helping those affected by violence in Bangui’s Gobongo suburb, where several people were killed in June 28 clashes between local youths and Seleka fighters.

The bishops said Catholic schools had “very timidly resumed activities” for examinations in Bangui, Bangassou, Kaga-Bandoro, Bouar and other towns.

They welcomed efforts by Christian and Muslim leaders to defuse religious tensions.