A bishop in Paraguay has been suspended by the Vatican after he declared his intention to run as a presidential candidate in the country's 2008 elections.
Despite earlier warnings from the Vatican, retired Bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo M?©ndez, 57, of San Pedro, declared his intention to run in December last year.
He is currently leading in the opinion polls and many believe he is the only figure who can unite the opposition to defeat the conservative Colorado Party, which has been in power for about 60 years.
The Vatican decision to suspend him was conveyed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, after the Paraguayan prelate rejected Rome‚Äôs directive that he must end his presidential race.
"With sincere regret," Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re stated in the decree that he had to inflict on the bishop "the punishment of suspension 'a divinis' in keeping with Canon 1333, Paragraph 1" of the Code of Canon Law.
Appointed bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1994, the prelate had recently asked Benedict XVI to accept his "resignation from ecclesial ministry," so that he could "return to the condition of a layman in the Church."
The request was not accepted because being a bishop is considered by the Church, something that is "accepted freely forever."
The Paraguayan Constitution also does not allow ministers of any religion to hold the post of president.
The Pope "can either accept my decision or punish me. But I am in politics already," the 55-year-old had said.
Known for his work among the poor, Mr Lugo was appointed bishop of San Pedro by Pope John Paul II in 1994. He retired as bishop 10 years later.