As Catholic bishop, Paraguay's president fathered a child

On Monday, President Fernando Lugo admitted he had a son while still an ordained bishop

By , McClatchy Newspapers

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    Paraguay's President and former Catholic bishop Fernando Lugo gestures during a news conference at the government palace in Asuncion, Monday, April 13, 2009.
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Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo admitted Monday that he's the father of a 2-year-old boy who was conceived when Lugo was still a Roman Catholic bishop.

Lugo made the surprise announcement five days after the boy's mother, Viviana Carrillo, filed a paternity suit against him that contained more than just the explosive claim about the father's identity.

In it, the 26-year-old Ms. Carrillo said they began having sexual relations when she was 16. As bishop of San Pedro, Lugo sometimes stayed at the rural home of her godmother, where Carrillo also lived, she said.

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McClatchy obtained a copy of the nine-page paternity suit on Monday.

Carrillo said that she first met Lugo when she was studying in preparation for the sacrament of Confirmation in her church, and that their personal relationship began one night shortly thereafter.

Carrillo said he began to pursue her "until, because of my youth and inexperience, I was seduced by the way he talked, his pretty words, his beautiful expressions and by his promises that he would resign his position for me, that he would spend his life with me, that we would have many children together and form a household."

She said that Lugo had been "my first and only man."

Reaction to the disclosure is divided.

Alfredo Boccia, a political columnist for the Paraguayan newspaper Ultima Hora, said by telephone from the capital of Asuncion that most people there would take the news in stride.

"He did the smartest thing he could have done," Mr. Boccia said. "He nipped the scandal in the bud. People are more lax in their attitudes here. It shouldn't hurt his personal image much."

That view was shared by Pastor Vera, the mayor of San Pedro, an impoverished city with dirt streets in south central Paraguay, where Lugo served as the bishop until 2004.

"Most people will see it as a private affair," Mr. Vera said by telephone. "What's important is that he assumed his responsibility."

Monsignor Ignacio Gorgoza, who headed the Paraguayan bishops conference last year, sharply criticized Lugo.

"It's a big blow for the Catholic Church and a bad example that could cause a loss of confidence in the church by the citizenry," Mr. Gorgoza told Ultima Hora Monday.

By the time Lugo resigned as San Pedro's bishop, he'd made a name for himself by opposing powerful and corrupt interests that had long governed Paraguay. Carrillo lived in San Pedro.

Lugo renounced his position as bishop in December 2006 to begin an underdog campaign for president. It wasn't until July 2008 — after his election as president and 14 months after his son was born — that Pope Benedict XVI relieved him of his chastity vows by allowing him to resign from the church, however.

As a presidential candidate, Lugo was the ultimate political outsider who overcame the political establishment to be elected president last April.

His election garnered worldwide attention for this poor, landlocked country. Before Lugo, no priest had been elected president of a Latin American country in living memory, much less one who hewed to the liberation theology of agitating on behalf of the oppressed.

His inauguration in August marked the first time in Paraguay's 197-year history that the ruling party willingly ceded power to the elected opposition.

Lugo has been a popular president, taking over with a vow to serve the dispossessed. He dresses the part, eschewing a tie and wearing closed-toed sandals.

Government officials initially denied Carrillo's claims last week, suggesting that political enemies were engaged in a smear campaign. Newspapers picked up on the story, noting that Lugo had denied rumors during last year's presidential campaign that he had children.

On Monday, Lugo finally told the truth.

"Here and now, before my people and my conscience, I declare with absolute honesty and a sense of duty and transparency in relation to the controversy provoked by the paternity suit, that there was a relationship with Viviana Carrillo," Lugo said.

"I assume all responsibilities . . . and recognize the paternity of the child," Lugo said, adding that he wanted to protect the privacy of his son, Guillermo Armindo Carrillo.

Lugo said he wouldn't comment further.

He was scheduled to travel to Venezuela later this week for a two-day meeting that begins Tuesday. It was organized by President Hugo Chávez to discuss a common strategy with political allies in advance of the Summit of the Americas.

Besides Lugo, at least two other recent Latin American presidents — Alejandro Toledo and Alan Garcia, both of Peru — have admitted to fathering children out of wedlock, before they took office.

In addition, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet have openly admitted to having children before they were married and before they took office.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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