Editor of Italy bishops’ newspaper resigns; Had demanded Berlusconi respond to sex allegations

By Nicole Winfield, AP
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Newspaper editor who criticized Berlusconi quits

ROME — The editor of a prominent Catholic newspaper that demanded Premier Silvio Berlusconi answer questions about a sex scandal resigned Thursday, saying he and his family were hurt by an attack on his reputation from a Berlusconi family newspaper.

The resignation highlighted Berlusconi’s souring ties with the church, which objects to the Italian government’s immigration policy, has been troubled by reports linking the premier to young women and now faces a media row that drew in even Pope Benedict XVI.

Dino Boffo, editor of the Italian Bishops’ Conference daily newspaper Avvenire, strongly denied allegations raised by Il Giornale, a Berlusconi family newspaper, that alleged Boffo had been involved in a court case with homosexual overtones.

Last week, the Milan daily claimed that Boffo had been fined in a plea-bargain several years ago for making harassing calls to the wife of a man in whom he was purportedly interested. It accused him of hypocrisy for scrutinizing Berlusconi’s private life.

Boffo acknowledged being fined in the case but said someone else had used his cell phone to make the calls. Prosecutors maintain Boffo made the calls, but have denied there was a gay angle to the case.

Boffo said Thursday he resigned because Il Giornale’s “barbaric” attack had hurt his family and Avvenire.

Following Il Giornale’s attack, even the pope weighed in, expressing his support for the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who had strongly defended Boffo.

Il Giornale, which is owned by Berlusconi’s brother, published the article after Avvenire called on Berlusconi to answer questions about his purported infatuation with young women.

Berlusconi has been on the defensive ever since his wife announced in the spring that she was divorcing him, citing his presence at the 18th birthday party of a Naples model. Italian media subsequently reported that women had been paid to attend parties at the premier’s residences and that a high-class prostitute had once spent the night with him.

Berlusconi, 72, has denounced what he says is a media smear campaign against him and has sued two left-wing dailies for libel. He has denied ever paying anyone for sex and says there was nothing “spicy” in his relations with the Naples model.

Berlusconi distanced himself from Il Giornale’s report but the damage was already done. Berlusconi’s relations with the church, already frayed by his own sex scandal, worsened, with the church canceling a dinner he was to have with the Vatican No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Support from Catholic voters is considered crucial for any Italian government and good ties with the Vatican are courted by many politicians. The meeting with Bertone was seen as a chance for Berlusconi and the Church to smooth over differences on immigration.

Boffo said he was resigning because he, his family and his publication had been hurt by a “despicable” attack.

“I cannot allow this war of words that has devastated my family and astonished Italians to continue,” Boffo wrote in his letter of resignation.

On Thursday, Bagnasco expressed regret over the editor’s resignation, denouncing the “unprecedented media attack” against Boffo and praising his long-standing service to the church.

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