Berlusconi: Rift with Catholic Church 'a lie'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denied on Monday that scandals over his private life had caused a rift with the powerful Catholic Church, saying his stance on forthcoming euthanasia legislation would strengthen relations.

Senior churchmen and Catholic newspaper Avvenire have criticised the conservative leader for his flamboyant lifestyle, under scrutiny since his wife demanded a divorce in May when he was filmed at a model’s 18th birthday party.

The tensions flared late last month after a newspaper run by Berlusconi’s brother said Avvenire‘s editor Dino Boffo was fined in 2004 for harassing his homosexual lover’s wife, prompting a top Vatican official to cancel dinner with the premier.

Boffo, with the support of the Catholic hierarchy, denied the report but quit on Thursday after days of front-page coverage. The government denies a rift but a weekend poll said its support has slipped among its core Catholic constituency.

“It is a lie because my government’s and my own personal relations with those who guide the Catholic Church ... have always been excellent,” Berlusconi told his own Mediaset TV network.

The 72-year-old media mogul said his government’s strong ties to the church were demonstrated by its defence of Catholic beliefs on abortion and defence of the family.

“It’s a relationship which we will consolidate in coming months on very important issues like euthanasia,” he said.

Italians want to be me
Parliament will soon debate a proposed law to let citizens with an incurable illness or injury choose to be allowed to die.

The legislation was prompted by Eluana Englaro, who spent 17 years in a coma before her family won a battle to let her die in February, aged 38, despite strong Church opposition.
Berlusconi failed in a last-minute bid to keep her alive.

Berlusconi usually scores high with Catholic voters but the poll on Sunday in Corriere della Sera showed his support among practising Catholics, who comprise 40% of the population, slipping to 50% from 55% in April, before the scandals.

In addition to his relationship with 18-year-old aspiring actress Noemi Letizia, with whom Berlusconi has denied any impropriety, he faces allegations by prostitute Patrizia D’Addario that she was paid by a businessman to spend the night with him.

Berlusconi has denied ever paying for sex but never directly denied spending the night with D’Addario.

He has tried to end a summer of scandals by suing Italian and foreign papers and shifting the focus to relief efforts in Abruzzo, hit by an earthquake in April. He vowed to have all the survivors out of tents and in real homes this month.

“On September 15 I will personally hand over the first houses and apartments, and we will finish by the end of the year,” Berlusconi said. “What we are doing is an absolute miracle.”

Asked by a sympathetic interviewer why his popularity had remained relatively strong, Berlusconi replied: “I think most Italians privately wish they could be like me and recognise themselves in me and the way I behave.”—Reuters

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