A top Italian cardinal complained Monday that civility was on the decline in Italy after a prominent Catholic editor was forced to resign after a newspaper loyal to Premier Silvio Berlusconi exposed a scandal in his past.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of Italy's influential bishops' conference, denounced what he called a "grave" attack against the Dino Boffo, editor of the Italian bishops' daily newspaper Avvenire, by the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale.
Earlier this month, Il Giornale reported 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.
Il Giornale published the article after Avvenire had demanded Berlusconi answer questions about his own sex scandal, including
revelations that women had been paid to attend parties at his residences and that a high-class prostitute had once spent the night with him.
Berlusconi has denied paying anyone for sex and has denounced what he has called a media-driven smear campaign against him.
Boffo acknowledged being fined in the harassment 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 any gay angle to the case. Boffo has insisted that the full court file
He ultimately resigned from Awenire, saying he was doing so to spare the church and his family any further torment.
The tit-for-tat newspaper attacks strained ties between Berlusconi's conservative government and the Catholic church. While Berlusconi has said those ties have since been healed, Bagnasco's comments Monday made clear the wounds were still fresh as far as the church was concerned.
In a speech to the annual assembly of Italian bishops, Bagnasco said the "bitter" episode had "in the end touched us all."
"The gravity of the attack cannot but be seen as a sign of an alarming deterioration of that well-mannered civility that we all seek and should use," he said.
He insisted that the Catholic church aimed to be a constructive presence in the country, a response to critics who say the church intrudes too much in Italian political life with its calls for Catholic politicians to toe church teaching in their public and private lives.
The church, he said, "cannot be coerced or intimidated just because it does its job."
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