An intense row between a leading Italian Catholic newspaper and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has led to the resignation of the newspaper’s editor over what he called “diabolically engineered” rumors reported by a newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family.
Dino Boffo, editor of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference’s daily paper Avvenire, resigned a week after the newspaper Il Giornale reported that Boffo had accepted a plea bargain and paid a fine in a 2004 lawsuit after being accused of harassing a woman.
Il Giornale claimed that Boffo had a homosexual relationship with the woman’s partner. The paper also charged that Boffo was a hypocritical moralist who should not criticize Berlusconi’s lifestyle because of his own past transgressions, Reuters reports.
Boffo, who has edited Avvenire for 15 years, denied the report and said the woman was harassed by someone else using his cell phone.
Berlusconi is presently going through a divorce and has been facing media scrutiny over his relationship with an 18-year-old aspiring model and allegations he spent a night with a call girl in his Rome residence.
According to the London Times, in an August editorial Boffo said that because of Berlusconi’s alleged actions “people have understood the unease, the mortification, the suffering that such an arrogant abandonment of a sober style has caused us.”
In response, the prime minister, who is also an influential media business magnate, has said he is “no saint” but has not done anything improper. He has accused left-wing media of mounting a smear campaign against him and has filed lawsuits against Italian, French and Spanish publications for libel.
Reacting to the allegations against him, Boffo wrote a letter to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, saying, "For seven days my name has been at the center of a storm of gigantic proportions."
"I cannot accept that a war of words that is upsetting my family and increasingly startling Italians ... keeps developing around my name for days to come," he said, according to Reuters.
Boffo said it was now clear that the scandalous accusation against him was “a colossal fictional set-up which was diabolically engineered.”
Prosecutors in the harassment case against Boffo denied that any court document contained references to any sexual relationships. They said they did not investigate the possibility of a third person using a cell phone in the harassment case because they did not think it was credible.
The Department of Social Communications of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) has released a statement in which CEI’s president, Cardinal Bagnasco, said he accepted Boffo’s resignation with “sadness.”
“Personally and on behalf of the entire episcopate, I confirm my profound gratitude for his deep commitment shown through many years of competence, rigor and passion,” the cardinal wrote.
Dino Boffo provided a service “extremely precious” for the life of the Church and Italian society, the cardinal continued, offering “our unmoved appreciation for his person, the object of an unspeakable attack in the media."
In response to the attack on Boffo, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone cancelled a dinner with Berlusconi scheduled for last Friday. He and many church officials and party leaders have expressed solidarity with Boffo, accusing Il Giornale of mud-slinging and dirty tricks.
According to Reuters, Boffo has thanked church leaders for their support but has insisted his resignation is irrevocable.
“The Church has better things to do than strenuously defend one person, even if unfairly targeted," he said.