Catholics lose faith in Berlusconi

Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Photo/REUTERS

ROME, Sunday

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s support among practising Catholics has slipped since the scandals about his private life erupted, though he still has the support of half them, according to a new poll.

Among the 40 per cent of Italians who attend church at least two or three times a month, the conservative premier’s approval rating has fallen to 50 per cent from 55 per cent in April, before the scandals hit the media, said the survey published on Sunday.

The wife of the 72-year-old media mogul and AC Milan soccer club owner said in May that she wanted divorce, accusing him of “frequenting minors” and of promoting attractive young women to political posts in what she termed a “trashy” system.

Then a prostitute from Bari made public details and phone recordings of nights at Mr Berlusconi’s Rome apartment and parties with other escorts there and at his villa in Sardinia. Photos of guests cavorting naked at these parties were also published.

Mr Berlusconi denies paying women for sex. His lawyer, who has announced libel suits against some Italian and foreign papers, famously said the premier was only the “end user”.

Polls of the broader public suggest that Mr Berlusconi, who won a third term last year and has largely avoided taking the blame for the worst recession in post-war history, has lost some votes to the scandals but still has around 50 per cent support levels.

The church’s own popularity among the faithful has risen slightly in recent months to 85 per cent from 83, said ISPO chief Renato Mannheimer in the poll for Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Mr Berlusconi’s counterattack on the media for its coverage of the sex scandals has included a widely-criticised report about the editor of Catholic newspaper Avvenire, on the front pages of Il Giornale newspaper which is run by Mr Berlusconi’s brother.

After Avvenire’s editor Dino Boffo criticised Mr Berlusconi for his lifestyle, Il Giornale reported that Mr Boffo had been fined in 2004 for harassing the wife of his homosexual lover. (Reuters)