Saturday, August 2, 2008


Pope lets Paraguay's president-elect step down as bishop
by Paul Virgo
Religion News Service

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI has taken the rare step of allowing Paraguay's president-elect, former Bishop Fernando Lugo, to step down as a bishop before he assumes office Aug. 15.

Lugo, who won April's elections, resigned as a bishop in 2006 when he decided to run for president, saying he felt unable to help the poor as a clergyman.

The Vatican had previously refused to recognize the 57-year-old's resignation, arguing that he was still a bishop since his ordination was a lifelong sacrament, and demanded that he cease all political activities.

But the decision by the pope to grant the former "bishop of the poor" an unprecedented waiver enables him to revert to being a layman.

"This is the first case within the church in which a bishop receives a dispensation," Orlando Antonini, the papal nuncio to Paraguay, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"Yes, there have been many other priests the pope has left in the status of layman, but never a member of the hierarchy until today."

Without the special dispensation, Lugo risked excommunication since papal rules forbid priests holding political office.

"It's a great pain for the church to lose a bishop, a priest whom we tried to dissuade from the political option up to the last day of his election campaign," Antonini said. "But the Holy Father recognized that he was elected by the majority of the people to lead Paraguay for the next five years."

Lugo began his political career in 2004 while he was bishop of San Pedro, amid widespread uprisings by peasant groups protesting against unequal land distribution and the encroachment of industrial farming.

He soon quit as bishop of the rural area, but maintained his bishop status for two more years.

"I'd like to sincerely thank his holiness Pope Benedict for a decision that hasn't been easy for the Vatican," the Associated Press quoted Lugo as telling reporters. "They reconsidered my request (for a dispensation) for the good of the country."

As a layman, Lugo is now free to marry under civil law. But he has shown no inclination of wanting to do so. His sister, Mercedes, is to serve as first lady.

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