ASUNCION (Reuters) - Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo admitted on Monday he fathered a child when he was still a Roman Catholic bishop, as a paternity suit threatened to weaken him politically.
Lugo, a 57-year-old leftist, said in a televised address that he had an affair with a woman who is now 26, and conceded he was the father of her child.
“I assume all responsibilities ... and I recognise paternity,” Lugo said.
Lawyers for the baby’s mother filed a paternity suit against the president last week and a judge was proceeding with an investigation. The child is almost 2 years old, media reports said.
The suit kicked up a media storm that has damaged Lugo’s image but the mother later told reporters she had not signed any complaint and had not authorized the lawyers to file it on her behalf.
Lugo won the presidency last April at the head of a coalition, ending more than 60 years of one-party rule in the poor South American country.
He had served as a bishop for 10 years in the impoverished region of San Pedro and shed his cassock in late 2006 to launch his political career despite church opposition.
The Vatican at first rejected his petition for layman’s status, suspending him from priestly duties but saying he was still a bishop since his ordination was a lifelong sacrament.
It changed its position after he won the election, and Pope Benedict granted an unprecedented waiver to allow him to serve as president without violating church rules.
According to the lawsuit, Lugo and the mother of the child met when he was bishop in San Pedro and stayed in the house of her godmother.
Some voters applauded the president for admitting he was the child’s father, but said the scandal would hurt him.
“I think he was very brave. He’s being correct and responsible but it will affect his image and the church’s because of the double standard,” Ana Albospino, a 40-year-old teacher, told Reuters in downtown Asuncion.
Paraguay’s Catholic leadership did not immediately react to Lugo’s announcement, although some bishops did.
“It’s a tough blow for the Catholic Church and a bad example that will make people lose confidence in the institution,” said Bishop Ignacio Gogorza in the Ultima Hora newspaper.
Lugo won the presidency on campaign pledges to end Paraguay’s notorious corruption and push through land reforms to allow more landless peasants to hold plots.
He has focussed on social policies and tried to strengthen small businesses and peasant farmers, but has struggled to push through policies due to fierce opposition from other parties in Congress.
Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Kieran Murray