President and ex-bishop hit by three paternity suits

More mothers may be waiting in the wings as saga stuns Paraguayans

In Paraguay, the joy of the daily soap operas, or telenovelas, has been paling recently beside the goings-on at the official residence of President Fernando Lugo. His is indeed an unusually gripping saga that seems to acquire new cast members with every passing day. Some have speaking parts. Others burp and gurgle.

It was shocking enough when the first woman stepped forward asserting that she had had a child with President Lugo, 57, who assumed power on a wave of popularity just eight months ago. It is worth bearing in mind that before running for president he was a prominent Catholic bishop.

The President not only acknowledged the truth in the startling claims of Viviana Carrillo, 26. According to local media reports, he even opened his palace to her and the child, who is now almost two. Seemingly, they are settling in well. The child has even adopted his name.

But before the country knew how to react – it is at once overwhelmingly Catholic but is also a macho society that may consider the procreational activities of its leader a sign of fortitude – two more shoes or, rather, babies, dropped. A second purported mother of a Lugo child vowed to file a paternity suit against him on Monday. And yet another woman popped up on Wednesday with more Lugo offspring.

A single transgression might be seen as a forgivable error; three mothers and three babies emerging in two weeks could spell more serious trouble for President Lugo. He has already cancelled a long-planned visit to the United States and this week completed a cabinet reshuffle that most saw as an attempt to divert attention from nursery matters.

"I recognise that I fathered a child," he said in a press conference after the first revelations were spilled by Ms Carrillo who says she was 16 when the relationship with him started. He added that he would "assume all responsibilities". About the other two women and their claims he has remained silent. Not so silent are the country's opposition leaders and commentators. While his Lotharian energies might insult the more devout Catholics in the country, his critics point to the broader issue of his trustworthiness. He never admitted parenting any children during the election campaign.

Claudio Paolillo, an editor on the Nacion newspaper, noted "it's legitimate that Paraguayans ask if when the President speaks he is telling the truth," adding: "If he was capable of hiding, concocting facts and lying about nothing less than his condition as a father, why would he not 'sin' again... about other things related to his term. How many more children does the President have that he has not yet admitted?"

Speculation is swirling that still more women may be waiting in the wings to make similar claims. "We are in the phase of initial incredulity about these announcements," José Luis Simón, a political analyst, journalist and critic of the President, told the Washington Post. "We have begun to see a process of deterioration of the popular support of this President... All this has set off very serious questions that put Paraguayan democracy at risk."

The Church is also coming under scrutiny amid speculation that it turned a blind eye to violations by the former bishop of his vows of chastity. "The Church hierarchy knew for years of this misconduct," Bishop Rogelio Livieres told Paraguayan radio on Tuesday. Mr Lugo became a bishop in 1994 but offered his resignation as bishop in 2004. It was not accepted by the Vatican, however, until last July.

The second of three woman, Benigna Leguizamon, is a former soap saleswoman who worked in Mr Lugo's diocese in 2000 when she was 17 years old. The son she claims was conceived with him was born in 2002. "The monsignor gave me his support but took advantage of my great need and induced me to have relations," she said.

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