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Berlusconi paper claims victory

September 4, 2009

by Guy Dinmore in Rome. Published on FT on September 4 2009

A right-wing newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family claimed victory on Thursday after its reporting resulted in the resignation of the editor representing Italy’s bishops who had become a prominent critic of Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister and media tycoon.

Dino Boffo, editor of the daily Avvenire and a Catholic television and radio station, quit on Thursday. Rejecting media accusations that he was a homosexual who had been convicted in court for harassing a woman, Mr Boffo said he could no longer tolerate the personal attacks that had “raped” his family.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops Conference, accepted his resignation with regret and noted he had been the object of an “indescribable media attack”.

Il Giornale, a daily which is majority-owned by the prime minister’s brother, said Vittorio Feltri, its editor, had “won his first battle” since taking up the post last month. Mr Feltri had denounced Mr Boffo as a hypocritical “supermoralist” for attacking the prime minister.

Mr Boffo, said to represent the voice of conservative bishops in Italy, had become a vocal critic of Mr Berlusconi’s sense of morality after a series of scandals emerged in April over his alleged extra-marital relationships.

Mr Berlusconi dissociated himself from the initial attack against Mr Boffo launched by Mr Feltri last Friday, but political sources said they believed he did nothing to stop them throughout this week. The prime minister’s office had no immediate comment.

The Vatican and Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right government say relations between them are still good, despite cancellation of a high-level dinner with the prime minister last Friday as a result of Il Giornale’s first article. Commentators say Mr Berlusconi’s relationship with Italy’s bishops have been severely damaged.

Mr Berlusconi is suing at least two Italian and two foreign newspapers over their coverage of his personal life. L’Unita, former mouthpiece of the now defunct Italian Communist party, says it would be forced to close if a court awarded the damages sought by the prime minister.

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