In the latest — but most likely not final — round in an incredible case of Italian journalistic pugilism, the editor of a Catholic newspaper sparring publicly for a week with the daily owned by the family of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has resigned. Dino Boffo’s resignation as head of Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, ended an Italian telenovela that had riveted the media for seven consecutive days and even saw indirect involvement by Pope Benedict. (Photo: Il Giornale fronts charges against Boffo, 3 Sept 2009/Stefano Rellandini)
In his three-and-a half page letter of resignation (here in Italian), which he said was irrevocable, Boffo said the tussle with the editor Vittorio Feltri of the Milan daily Il Giornale had made his life unbearable. For his good, that of his family and that of the Church, he could not longer stay “at the centre of a storm of gigantic proportions that has invaded newspapers, television, radio, the internet and shows no signs of ending.”
Boffo said his only mistake was not taking his initial judicial problem seriously enough. As noted in my blog post here last Tuesday, Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri wrote last week that Boffo accepted a plea bargain in 2002 over a case in which a woman accused him of harassment. Il Giornale claimed that Boffo was having a homosexual relationship with her husband. It said Boffo should not have written editorials criticising Berlusconi’s sexual escapades when he was not exactly an an innocent altar boy himself.
But in his resignation letter, Boffo said “the sexual scandal initially used against me was a colossal, fictional set-up which was diabolically engineered.” Boffo says the woman was harassed by someone else using his cell phone. “The Church has better things to do than strenuously defend one person, even if unfairly targeted,” he stated in his resignation letter.
What’s interesting is that Il Giornale, which is owned by Berlusconi’s brother Paolo and regularly attacks Berlusconi opponents as if it were an official party organ, kept up its attack on Boffo — often with front-page banner headlines — for seven consecutive days. This despite the fact that the entire Church hierarchy closed ranks to support him and Berlusconi “disassociated” himself from his own family paper. The support for Boffo included an indirect intervention by the pope in the form of a letter of support to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who as president of the Italian Bishops Conference is ultimately Boffo’s boss.