Italy’s Catholic Church vs. Berlusconi drama, Act II
A running crisis in relations between Silvio Berlusconi’s government and the Church deepened when Italy’s top Catholic weekly accused him of acting like a “prince” while many Italians were struggling financially. A scathing editorial in Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s largest circulation weekly news magazine, also indirectly criticised the media mogul’s private life and attacked the type of women politicians he has promoted in his centre-right party. And it did so without naming him once. The clever editorial in its online edition on September 16, here in Italian, was unsigned, meaning it was written by the magazine’s editor, Father Antonio Sciortino.
The editorial came several weeks after relations between the government and the influential Church nose-dived when a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family launched a personal attack against a top Catholic editor, forcing him to resign. Read our previous blogs on that episode here and here.
In the latest episode of a duel between the Church and the prime minister, the Famiglia Cristiana editorial made a number of clear references to Berlusconi and scandals or controversies that have surrounded him recently. In a laundry list of what it said were examples of the country’s moral degradation, it spoke of “escorts” and “high-class prostitutes.” Berlusconi has been at the centre of media attention in Italy and abroad over allegations that he spent a night with a call-girl in his Rome residence. The woman, Patrizia D’Addario, taped their private conversations and says she and other escorts were paid to attend his parties.
(Photo: Patrizia D’Addario in Otranto, 19 Aug, 2009/Fabio Serino)
Berlusconi has not denied sleeping with the woman but says he did not know she was an escort and says he has never paid for sex.
The Famiglia Cristiana editorial also spoke of women politicians and television personalities chosen “for their looks rather than intelligence.”
One of Berlusconi’s cabinet ministers is a former showgirl who has had a meteoric rise in politics. Berlusconi’s wife Veronica, who is seeking a divorce over his womanising, last April said his party’s selection of women candidates was a “shamelessly trashy” process aimed at keeping him “entertained.”
After listing its complaints, the editorial added sarcastically: “But everything is fine. The important thing is to spread optimism in spades and celebrate the triumphs of the Prince at L’Aquila, hiding the problems of a tough autumn for workers and families, who see themselves becoming always poorer.”
The reference to the “Prince at L’Aquila” was not lost on anyone. On Tuesday, critics accused Berlusconi of hogging the media spotlight during a programme on state television about the consignment of temporary homes to victims of the L’Aquila quake.
The opposition was furious after both state broadcaster RAI and Berlusconi’s Mediaset network abruptly postponed rival talk shows to give him more exposure.
(Photo: Berlusconi on RAI television, 15 Sept 2009/Remo Casilli)
The government’s relations with the influential Church have been icy in recent months in part because of Catholic media criticism of Berlusconi’s private life.
Earlier this month Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, launched front-page attacks on Dino Boffo, the editor of Avvenire newspaper of the Italian bishops conference, to retaliate for the editorials he wrote against Berlusconi. Il Giornale said the editor had a sexual scandal in his past. Boffo denied the charges but resigned after two weeks, saying he was innocent but was stepping down for the good of the Church.