Church official: Paraguayan bishop planning presidential run risks excommunication

Asuncion, Paraguay - A "rebellious" former bishop could be excommunicated if he goes through with a planned run for the presidency, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Paraguay said in comments published Wednesday.

Retired Bishop Fernando Lugo announced this week that he had resigned from the priesthood to run in May 2008 elections as the candidate of an alliance opposed to conservative President Nicanor Duarte.

"Monsignor Lugo is in a position of rebellion, exposing himself to the punishment of excommunication," Paraguayan Bishops Conference president Ignacio Gogorza told the newspaper Ultima Hora. "He has no permission from the Vatican to enter politics, so he is leaving Catholicism in a wrong manner.

"A bishop does not stop being a bishop just because he resigns," Gogorza added.

Lugo, 55, was appointed bishop of the impoverished northern San Pedro diocese by Pope John Paul II in 1994, and 10 years later he was ordered to retire. No reasons were announced.

Since then, he had been director of a Catholic school, but his decision to enter politics prompted his firing. He was not available for comment on Wednesday, though he earlier said he has received no response from the Vatican about his electoral ambitions.

On Tuesday, however, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, issued a statement urging Lugo to abandon the presidential bid.

"The Holy See has learned with surprise that some political parties have the intention of presenting him (Lugo) as candidate in the coming presidential election in Paraguay," Re said. "The acceptance of that offer would be clearly against the serious responsibility of a bishop. ... Canonical Law prohibits priests from participating in political parties or labor unions."

The statement threatened to suspend Lugo's authority as a priest as a "first sanction." It was not clear whether it was written before Lugo's the resignation.

In announcing his candidacy on Monday, Lugo said Pope Benedict XVI "can either accept my decision or punish me. But I am in politics already."