Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bishops to Berlusca: Shape Up

His government may be more sympathetic to the hierarchy than those of its Leftist rivals, but amid reports of his second divorce, the influential daily of the Italian bishops has gone and taken Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to task anyway.

A front-page editorial in today's Avvenire called on the flamboyant media tycoon-turned-conservative premier to be a better "mirror of the nation's soul":
[T]he official newspaper of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference described his behaviour as "worrying".

The stinging comment said Italy deserved a Prime Minister who was a "mirror of the country's soul" and called on him to be more "sober and sombre".

Mr Berlusconi, 72, has been in the spotlight since his wife Veronica Lario, 52, announced she was divorcing him because she was "fed up of seeing him with minors" after he attended an 18-year-old model's birthday party.

Veronica also slammed his idea of having young, attractive female [members of the European parliament] as "shameless rubbish".

Berlusconi was elected last year with a strong Catholic vote as his centre right coalition promotes family values and backs the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year Berlusconi delighted the Vatican when he stepped into the case of a woman who had been in a coma for 17 years and whose family wanted to remove the feeding tube keeping her alive.

Berlusconi said that he would rush through legislation to prevent them from doing so but in the end the woman Eluana Englaro died before the legislation was passed from an infection.

He has also backed the Vatican on its various stance against abortion, contraception and gay marriage as well as bio ethical research – despite being a divorcee which is against the Church's teachings.

In its editorial Avvenire said: "We know that a man of the government is judged by what he achieves, for his programmes and for the quality of the laws that he contributes to passing.

"But the quality of a leader, his style and his values should also not be indifferent – they cannot be....

The editorial was written under the headline "Politics and Showbusiness a deadly embrace" and it added that it was worrying that Berlusconi had a "exuberance and a weakness for young, flowing actresses."
On beginning his third stint as the country's head of government last year, Berlusconi named a 1997 Miss Italy finalist and former nude model to his Cabinet.

Amid an outcry that the appointment was more due to Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Cafagna's beauty than her qualifications, Berlusca memorably shot back that "the Left has no taste, even when it comes to women."

Lest anyone be shocked, as Italian politics goes, that's pretty much business as usual. Then again, the 71 year-old politico isn't the Continent's only Catholic leader in an ecclesial bind when it comes to his vows; the French President Nicolas Sarkozy took his third wife last year, entering a civil marriage with the model-singer Carla Bruni.

Even so, Sarkozy's situation didn't keep Pope Benedict from being warmly hosted by President and (second) First Lady both at the Elysee Palace on his stop in Paris last year, nor did it prevent the Pope's own cathedral -- Rome's Basilica of St John Lateran -- from installing the conservative president as an honorary canon in late 2007, shortly after his second divorce and just before his engagement to Bruni was announced.

The canon's title is an ancient privilege given to the French president, dating to the days of the nation's kings.