Paraguay Paternity Fiasco
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The clamor over Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo's behavior is getting louder, one crying baby at a time.
For the third time in less than a month, a woman came forward yesterday saying that Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop, is the father of her child.
A single secret out-of-wedlock child by any president would make headlines. But in this heavily Roman Catholic country, the revelations about a man who had sworn chastity vows as a priest has stirred deeper concerns that some say could have serious repercussions for his government.
The scandal broke this month when lawyers for Viviana Carrillo, 26, said they were bringing a paternity suit against Lugo, claiming that he had fathered her child, Guillermo Armindo Carrillo Cañete, who will turn 2 next month. Carrillo said she was 16 when their relationship began.
Lugo shocked the country by publicly admitting that he was the boy's father and saying that he would "assume all responsibilities."
"I recognize that I fathered the child," he said at a news conference in the capital, Asuncion.
Lugo, 57 and single, became a bishop in 1994 but resigned a decade later from the diocese in San Pedro, a province in central Paraguay. In December 2006, he said he was renouncing his bishop status to run for president, but Pope Benedict XVI did not accept his resignation until last July -- before he took office as president.
Lugo's admission of paternity has prompted widespread discussions not only about his loyalty to his vows to the Catholic Church but also about his credibility on other matters. During the campaign, he did not admit to having children.
"We are in the phase of initial incredulity about these announcements," said José Luis Simón, a political analyst, journalist and professor who has long opposed Lugo. "We have begun to see a process of deterioration of the popular support of this president. . . . All this has set off very serious questions that put Paraguayan democracy at risk."
In a column in La Nación newspaper, Claudio Paolillo, an editor, wrote that "from now on, it's legitimate that Paraguayans ask if when the president speaks he is telling the truth."
"If he was capable of hiding, concocting facts and lying about nothing less than his condition as a father, why would he not 'sin' again . . . about other things related to his term. How many more children does the president have that he has not yet admitted?"
Others seemed more concerned about the church's rules on priestly celibacy.
"It's evident that the demands of the church restricting the sexual life of priests to permit them to do their work is anti-natural," another columnist, Enrique Vargas Peña, wrote in La Nación.
On Monday, the second woman to speak out, Benigna Leguizamón, said that she began working at the San Pedro diocese in 2000 when she was 17 and that her son with Lugo was born in September 2002.
"At the time, the monsignor gave me his support but took advantage of my great need and induced me to have relations," she was quoted as saying in local media. "In a year, I got pregnant by him. A midwife delivered my baby in the same house where I was living, whose rent he paid."
Lugo did not confirm or deny her claim but read a statement saying he would comply with all legal procedures. Leguizamón filed a suit demanding that Lugo take a DNA test to determine whether he was the father.
The woman who came forward yesterday, Damiana Morán, a 39-year-old divorcee, said in interviews with the Paraguayan media that she had only compliments for Lugo, whom she met in 2006, after he left the diocese. Morán, a social activist and director of a childcare center, called him "phenomenal" and said their relationship "was driven by a great love." She said that her son, Juan Pablo, is 16 months old but that she, unlike the other women, does not plan to file suit against Lugo.
Lugo has not yet responded to the most recent claim.
Amid the scandal this week, Lugo swapped out four members of his cabinet, which some saw as an attempt to distract attention from the paternity questions. He also canceled a trip to the United States this week, but a spokesman was quoted as saying it was because he had a very busy schedule.
One bishop, Rogelio Livieres, told Paraguayan radio Tuesday that the Catholic Church was aware of Lugo's relationships in 2004 but let him resign.
"The church hierarchy knew for years of this misconduct by Lugo but kept silent. Now there's nothing they can do," Livieres said.
The conference of Paraguayan bishops responded by saying in a statement that it "never received any formal written complaint" in relation to Lugo and his "supposed paternity." The group also denied that there was a cover-up or any complicity of bishops in the case.
Morán said at a news conference yesterday that she was forming a team to deal with these paternity cases. She said she has information that Lugo could have as many as six children.