Through a declaration made public from the Congregation for Bishops yesterday, the Vatican has suspended, “a divinis” the Bishop Emeritus of San Pedro, Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, following his decision to run for his country's presidency in 2008. The Holy See, however, did not grant the Bishop his requested “laicization,” which is constitutionally necessary for a Paraguayan presidential candidate.
The Apostolic Nunciature in Paraguay made public the decree, signed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, according to which Lugo will, “remain in the clerical state and continue to be obliged to its inherent duties, although suspended in the sacred ministry.”
Likewise, the letter reminds Lugo that “the episcopacy is a service accepted freely and forever,” and clarifies that in his case a Canonical exception for directly assuming political work does not apply.
“The exception to the prohibition mentioned in that Canon does not apply in your case: Paraguay, in fact, is a free and democratic nation and the Church, whose rights are respected, is (politically) represented by committed laity,” Cardinal Re explains.
In this way, he adds, “the candidacy of a bishop would be a cause of confusion and division among the faithful, an offense to the laity and a ‘clericalization’ of the specific mission belonging to laypersons in the political life.”
“The Holy See, therefore, does not perceive the existence of a just and reasonable cause, as required by Canon 90, to grant the requested dispensation,” the Cardinal said.
At the same time, the Nunciature made public a second letter from Cardinal Re, sent to Bishop Lugo at the beginning of January, in which he was notified that Pope Benedict XVI had rejected his request for laicization – to no longer be considered a priest (although according to Catholic Theology the ordination of a priest results in an ontological change which can never be “undone.”)
Prior to the release of the Vatican letters Lugo had told the EFE news agency that even if the Vatican did not grant him a laicization, he has renounced his clerical state publicly in order to meet Paraguayan Constitutional requirements that no religious may run for the presidency or vice-presidency of the country.
“I have taken the necessary steps so that the Constitution permits me to be a candidate. I believe that the opinion which the Vatican can put forth, whether permission, declination, or suspension, which I believe is the most feasible, will not influence whether or not the Constitution permits me to run,” he said a few hours before receiving Cardinal Re’s letter.
The 55 year-old bishop had announced his decision to pursue the presidential nomination in a public message, released on Christmas.
Lugo has already received sharp criticism from the current Vice President of Paraguay, Luis Castiglioni, who accused him of being an “imposter” and a “violator” of Canon Law and the Constitution, arguing that Lugo began posturing himself for a political run a year prior to his resignation as Bishop of San Pedro.