Paraguay: Suspended Bishop of San Pedro Elected President

Source: FSSPX News


Bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez, suspens a divinis bishop, and candidate of the Patriotic Alliance for Change in the presidential elections in Paraguay, was elected with 40.8% voices, versus 30.8% votes for Blanca Ovelar of the Colorado Party. He will take office on next August 15, according to the constitution of the country. The Patriotic Alliance for Change integrates a coalition of some thirty political parties and social movements.

Born on May 30, 1951, in San Solano (Paraguay) in a poor and non-practicing family, Fernando Lugo entered the seminary of the Society of the Divine Word, at age 19 in 1971. Ordained to the priesthood on August 15, 1977, he was sent as a missionary to Ecuador until 1982. In 1983, under the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) he was expelled from Paraguay and spent four years in Rome, where he studied sociology and theology at the Gregorian Pontifical University. Appointed by John Paul II as bishop of San Pedro, he was consecrated on April 17, 1994.

On December 25, 2006, Bishop Lugo Méndez announced his decision to run for presidential elections in 2008. He said that it was “painful” for him to give up his bishop’s office. Yet, “it made him happy at the same time, because henceforth his cathedral would be the whole country.” The bishop immediately received a letter of “warning” from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, explaining that, unless he renounced his political activities he would be suspens, as it is foreseen in Canon Law. Confronted with his determination, the Congregation for Bishops declared Bishop Lugo Méndez suspens a divinis in a decree dated January 20, 2007. In this text, Cardinal Re pointed out that Bishop Lugo Méndez had persisted in his decision to run for presidential elections in spite of the canonical motions from the Holy See. He said he was saddened by the situation. “The execution of any act of power, order, and government as well as the exercise of all the functions and rights inherent in the bishop’s office” are henceforth forbidden to him. However, he remains “in the priestly state, and must fulfill the duties attached to his state.” The decree was made public by the Nunciature of Asuncion on February 1, 2007.

Bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Méndez had asked Benedict XVI to be reduced to the lay state. The petition was denied, Cardinal Re explained, because “the bishopric is a charge accepted freely and forever.” Besides, a bishop works “for the salvation of souls, and not for the government of the political community,” he added.

When he received some twenty nuncios from Latin America in audience at the Vatican, in February 2007, Benedict XVI had reminded them that “it does not belong to priests but to mature and professionally prepared laymen to be at the head of social or political groups.” Canon law forbids priests to exercise civil power, or enroll in political parties, unless “the defense of the temporal goods of the Church or the promotion of common good require it.”

Bishop Fernando Lugo had explained that he wanted to “put an end to a long history of social exclusion, in which officials have a name.” He was referring to the sixty years during which the Colorado party was in power. “I do not feel that I am from the left, or the right, or the top, or the bottom,” the bishop added answering the outgoing president Oscar Nicanor Duarte Frutos. From today on, as I stepped into the political arena, I am at the disposal of the people, he declared. In an interview granted to the press, Fernando Lugo affirmed: “If my behavior and my disobedience to canon law have caused sorrow, I sincerely apologize to the Church.”

The new president of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, will remain a bishop, and keep his title, answered Lourdes Fernandez, spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Paraguay, when asked by AFP. “He is presently suspens a divinis, it is a temporary sanction,” she explained. The Bishops’ Conference of Paraguay, through Bishop Adalberto Martinez, confirmed the “continuation of relations of collaboration between Church and State,” while waiting for possible decisions from the Holy See. Solicited by Imedia news agency, the Press Office of the Holy See declined to comment upon the election of Fernando Lugo. (Sources: apic/imedia/misna)