- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

ASUNCION, PARAGUAY (AP) - Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo admitted Monday he is the father of a child conceived while he was still a Roman Catholic bishop.

Lugo surprised journalists by acknowledging he had an intimate relationship with Viviana Carrillo, the child’s mother _ just five days after lawyers for Carrillo announced they were filing a paternity suit against him.

“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,” he added, promising to protect the boy’s privacy.

The president said he will not comment further on the matter, but will instead focus on his presidency.

Carrillo did not immediately respond to Lugo’s surprise announcement, but her lawyer Claudio Kostinchok said he was pleased.

“By recognizing he is the father of the child, he proves us right,” Kostinchok said. “We didn’t invent anything.”

Kostinchok said he did not know immediately what would happen with the lawsuit. Last week, he said he would withdraw it after Carrillo denied approving it.

But Judge Evelyn Peralta said the law requires the case to continue, even if Carrillo’s lawyers withdraw it. Lugo will be notified in three days of the content of the lawsuit, she said.

While Lugo remained silent about the allegations until Monday, his spokesman said last week that the paternity claim “must be false,” and his legal adviser called it a smear campaign by Carrillo’s lawyers.

Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank focused on Latin American relations, said Lugo’s paternity concession was a savvy political move.

“Generally speaking, people get more in trouble from lying about what they’ve done than actually what they’ve done,” Hakim said, citing former U.S. President Richard Nixon’s obfuscation during Watergate and former President Bill Clinton’s initial denials in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

By acknowledging his son, Lugo steals thunder from the opposition and will be able to move forward and focus on more compelling problems, Hakim said _ namely, the impact of the global downturn in Paraguay, South America’s second-poorest country.

Lugo, 57, resigned in 2004 as bishop of San Pedro, capital of San Pedro province, which is the poorest region of the landlocked nation. Carrillo is from the province.

In December 2006, he announced that he was renouncing the status of bishop itself to run for president. But it was not until July 31 of last year that Pope Benedict XVI gave him unprecedented permission to resign, relieving him of his chastity vows.

The Vatican had insisted during the 2008 presidential campaign that Lugo would always be a bishop under church law.

Kostinchok says the boy was born on May 4, 2007, and that the child is named Guillermo Armindo in honor of Lugo’s grandfather.

Carrillo is now 26, but her relationship with the bishop-turned-president began when she was 16, according to local news media reports.

Sen. Julio Cesar Velazquez of the opposition Colorado Party called on the church to excommunicate Lugo for allegedly having a relationship with an adolescent while he was a bishop.

Msgr. Mario Melanio Medina, bishop from the southern province of Misiones, was the first member of the Paraguayan clergy to react.

“Lugo lied to the church, but better late than never, as the saying goes,” Medina said. “He won’t be the only one who lies to the church, but he recognized his mistake and that is a courageous act.”

Political analyst Carlos Martino said Lugo’s acknowledgment of his paternity effectively stopped the growing controversy dead in its tracks.

“Surely he is not the first bishop with a child,” Martino said.

But many Paraguayans consider the scandal a black eye for the government and the Catholic Church, which 90 percent of Paraguayans identify as their faith.

“The church should examine its celibacy (rule for clergy), because it’s an embarrassment that no less than a bishop had sex with a parishioner and a boy was born out of that relationship,” 30-year-old Manuela Gimenez said while waiting at a bus station. “Fortunately he’s accepting his responsibility as father.”

The episode is like a “soap opera,” Estela Ruiz Diaz, political editor at the daily newspaper Ultima Hora, told The Associated Press. “When will he start governing?”


Associated Press writer Jeannette Neumann in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS that previous reactions were from spokesman and legal advisor, instead of just spokesman.)

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