Asuncion, Apr. 23, 2008 ( - The election of a suspended Catholic bishop as president of Paraguay presents the Vatican with an important policy decision: Should further disciplinary action be taken against Fernando Lugo Mendez?

Lugo, whose election on April 20 ended 61 years of rule by the Colorado party in Paraguay, was suspended a divinis in February 2007, after he ignored repeated Vatican directives to remove himself from a partisan political campaign. In informing Lugo of the suspension, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re (bio - news), the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, hinted that other disciplinary could follow if Lugo persisted in his presidential campaign.

Lugo is not likely to be deterred by any Vatican action. Before beginning his political campaign he announced his intention to resign from the priesthood entirely. The Vatican responded by pointing out that priestly ordination cannot be undone, nor can a priest "resign" from the clerical state. However, Paraguay's incumbent President Nicanor Duarte accepted Lugo's statement as reason to suspend enforcement of a law that forbids clerics from entering a presidential race.

Now the London Times reports that Vatican officials are considering a move that would, ironically, accomplish what Lugo sought to do himself: official reducing him to the lay state. While the Times article is speculative-- it does not cite any Vatican official by name-- the possibility of further disciplinary action had earlier been mentioned by sources in the bishops' conference of Paraguay.

In his blog on canon-law issues (a far more reliable source than the Times on such matters), Edward Peters notes that the Code of Canon Law does allow for the laicization of a bishop, although the relevant canon has never been invoked. So the Lugo case presents the Holy See with an important precedent.

Priests are forbidden from serving in political office, and Lugo has defied that rule by seeking his country's highest elected office. But there are prudential issues involved in the case as well. As a leftist leader, obviously estranged from the Church, Lugo might even welcome Vatican action against him; laicization (commonly called "defrocking" in the secular media) might even strengthen his populist appeal.

A former Divine Word missionary, Lugo was named Bishop of San Pedro in 1994. He resigned that post in 2005, citing health issues. He is now 58 years old and his health appears to be fine.