Embattled Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi marked his 75th birthday yesterday (a milestone that makes all those stories about him even more bizarre), but Public Radio International notes that the Catholic Church in Italy is in no mood to celebrate. Listen to the report here, exploring how the church tries to balance working with Berlusconi's government, a coalition in line with many of the church's teachings in theory if not practice, while not endorsing his licentious lifestyle.
Reuters picked up on the story a couple days earlier, reporting that the prime minister was "shocked and saddened" by the tongue lashing he received from the head of the Italian bishops' conference:
Political sources said Berlusconi was left "stunned and saddened" by a speech on Monday by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who said Italy needed to "purify the air" contaminated by licentious behavior, scandal and corruption.
Bagnasco, who stopped just short of asking Berlusconi to resign, painted a damning picture of a ruling class that was more concerned with its survival than the good of the people.
"Everyone knew the blow was coming but no one expected it to be so brutally clear," said Alberto Bobbio, a writer for Italy's influential Catholic weekly, Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family).
The Church, which once saw Berlusconi as a bulwark against the left, was the latest institution to pull the plug on the embattled prime minister.
Anyone who has even remotely been attuned to Berlusconi's antics must wonder how his relationship with the Vatican could endure, and one observer says discretion is key:
Walston said what really riled the Church and the Vatican was Berlusconi's boasting about his sexual prowess and his virulent attacks on his political enemies.
"It was all just too obvious. As far as the Church is concerned, if you are in public life you can do almost anything as long as you do it discreetly. And we all know Berlusconi is not discreet," Walston said.
Or perhaps, another commentator suggests, the church is a bit more shrewd, recognizing that it must break ties with Berlusconi as his popularity with Italians quickly dissipates:
"In the mind of the Italian Bishops Conference, which has its ear close to the ground regarding public opinion, Berlusconi is history," said political commentator Massimo Franco in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.