By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

PARAGUAY, April 16, 2008 ( – A Catholic bishop who has been suspended by Vatican authorities is running for the presidency of Paraguay and is widely expected to win in the elections this Sunday.

Bishop Fernando Lugo, 56, resigned as bishop of the Diocese of San Pedro in 2005, and was suspended by the Vatican, but not dismissed from his priestly state. He is an open proponent of “liberation theology”, a movement that has often been condemned by the Catholic Church for endorsing socialistic ideologies incompatible with the Catholic faith.

Lugo also endorses what is popularly known in Latin America as “Socialism of the 21st Century”, a term he uses explicitly. Like its other proponents, such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Lugo is vague about its meaning. 

While endorsing “socialism” in a general way, he claims that he is not an adherent of any particular system and gives nonspecific answers to questions about his plans for the country. He has said of Hugo Chavez’ regime in Venezuela that it is “interesting and different” and “very stimulating”, but claims that Paraguay will follow its own path.

Despite his suspension as a bishop and his public renunciation of the clerical state in 2006, Lugo allows himself to be called “Monseignor Lugo” in campaign appearances, and uses religious language in his political slogans. 

On his website, Lugo can be heard giving a speech that proclaims his “faith” in various political goals.

“I have faith, I have faith that our compatriots will work in our country. I have faith that everyone will have access to health care, education, and justice. I have faith that we will recover our energy sovereignty,” he says in one recording, to the sound of applause.

According to reporter Charles Lane, writing for the Pulitzer Center, Lugo comes across as a typical “politician” in interviews.

“My first impression of the priest-turned-presidential candidate was that he was a politician through and through. No different from the pols I meet in the States-slippery with a glass smile and an eye on the time.  His responses were short and calculated and he resisted all my efforts to bridge the reporter/source gap,” writes Lane.

According to Lane, Lugo has a reputation for promoting conflict between economic interest groups, rather than reconciliation, which dates back to his tenure as bishop of San Pedro. He quotes Hector Cristaldo, the head of the Agricultural Coordination of Paraguay, as saying, “I believe his style of leadership is conflict. He is not a person who holds people together.”

Although Cristaldo is also an opponent of the Colorado Party, which has ruled the country for over 60 years, he doesn’t support Lugo, whom he blames for starting land conflicts. Lugo has promised an unspecified “land reform” if elected. 

“I am worried about Lugo. Looking at his background, I am worried,” Cristaldo told Lane.