SAN LORENZO, Paraguay — Fernando Lugo, the Roman Catholic bishop turned president of Paraguay, risked becoming a soap opera caricature after a third woman emerged Wednesday claiming that he's the father of her child.
The third claim within two weeks shook Lugo's eight-month-old government and left Paraguay buzzing that more women may yet step forward.
The latest news tarnished the storybook tale of a leftist president who unexpectedly shot to power last year after spending years as a bishop challenging entrenched interests on behalf of his poor parishioners.
Lugo, 57, canceled a one-day trip to Washington on Wednesday but didn't comment publicly on the latest claim.
After the first paternity charge surfaced, Lugo seemed to have put the emerging scandal behind him last week by quickly acknowledging that he's the father of a 2-year-old boy.
Then a second allegation was made. This time it was by a 30-year-old woman, Benigna Leguizamon, who sells soap door-to-door and said Tuesday that Lugo had fathered her 6-year-old son, Lucas Fernando.
The claim was plausible enough that Lugo's private attorney met with her. However, Leguizamon said afterward that she doubted the president's honesty and refused to agree to DNA tests by a private lab, as the attorney had suggested. On Wednesday, she formally filed a paternity claim against Lugo.
Also on Wednesday, Damiana Hortensia Moran, 39, the third woman, said that Lugo was the father of her 16-month-old son, Juan Pablo. Moran, who owns a child-care center, spoke in San Lorenzo, the town where she lives just outside Asuncion, Paraguay's capital.
"I hope that he recognizes Juan Pablo and transmits to him his values and beliefs," Moran told McClatchy by telephone. "I am not asking for any money. I can pay for his education. I just want him (Lugo) to tell the truth so others won't distort it."
Far from sounding like a spurned lover, Moran noted that she'd worked for Lugo's election, and she declared her political solidarity with him. She said that she'd gone public to prevent his political enemies from exploiting rumors about their relationship.
Moran, a divorced mother of two children in their early 20s, described Lugo as "a charismatic man, who is very attractive, simple. He treats everyone the same."
Moran said that she'd spoken by phone with Lugo on Monday and Tuesday, and that he said he'd assume his responsibilities for Juan Pablo. She said she'd named her son after the late pope, John Paul II, or Juan Pablo in Spanish.
Alfredo Boccia, a political columnist in Asuncion, said that the three cases had rocked Lugo's government but hadn't yet plunged it into a political crisis.
"Nobody is talking about impeachment," Boccia said, which would require a two-thirds vote in Congress, he added. "But I don't know how many more children can come out before the situation gets very serious for Lugo. I'm not so sure that this (the latest claim) will be the last one."
During last year's presidential campaign, responding to rumors, Lugo denied that he'd fathered any children.
Refusing to accept paternity until forced to "is what is culturally accepted in macho Paraguay," said Clyde Soto, the director of a nonprofit group in Asuncion that promotes women's rights. "It's very important that he deal responsibly with the claims by the women."
Adding to Lugo's woes, Bishop Rogelio Livieres said Tuesday that church leaders in Paraguay had covered up complaints that Lugo had had affairs while he was still a bishop.
Lugo resigned as the bishop of San Pedro, Paraguay's poorest province, in 2004. However, he remained with the church until December 2006, when he renounced his bishop status to begin his long-shot presidential campaign.
It wasn't until weeks before Lugo took office last August that Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation. This officially relieved Lugo of his chastity vows.
Lugo's election in this small, landlocked nation was worldwide news because he had the unusual background of having been a Catholic bishop. His inauguration also marked the first time in Paraguay's 197-year history that the ruling party willingly ceded power to the elected opposition.
Lugo has been a popular president, vowing to serve the poor and challenge the powerful, corrupt interests that have governed Paraguay for so long. He dresses as an outsider, eschewing a tie and wearing closed-toe sandals.
Those images have quickly receded in recent days, however.
The first woman who surfaced, Viviana Carrillo, filed a paternity suit that said their sexual relationship began 10 years ago when she was 16.
Carrillo and Lugo apparently made up quickly. She and their son, Guillermo, have since moved into the president's private home on the outskirts of Asuncion, newspapers have reported.
The paternity claims against Lugo have made him the butt of jokes by television and radio commentators.
Most of the jokes are crude, but a G-rated one holds that "Lugo may not have been a very productive president, but he has certainly been a reproductive one."
(Bridges reported from Caracas, Venezuela. Delvalle is a McClatchy special correspondent.)
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