Berlusconi sex exposé forces editor to resign

Prime Minister draws blood with attack on chief of Catholic Church daily
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The Independent Online

The editor of a daily newspaper that is the mouthpiece of the powerful Italian Bishops' Conference sensationally resigned yesterday, less than a week after being exposed as a convicted sex pest by the daily newspaper controlled by the Berlusconi family.

The attack on Dino Boffo, the editor of the Catholic Church's daily, L'Avvenire ("The Future"), was seen as evidence that the gloves are truly off in the confrontation between the Vatican and Italy's scandal-struck Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Boffo announced his resignation following a campaign against him in Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, in which he was described as a "renowned homosexual" who had been fined for harassing the wife of a man he was pursuing.

Boffo last night acknowledged that he had been fined in a harassment case in 2004. But he claimed that someone else had used his cell phone to make the harassing calls and denied that there was any homosexual relationship. He said that he was quitting to spare his family further embarrassment and to stop a war of words that had "astonished" ordinary Italians. With Boffo's resignation, Mr Berlusconi was able to claim the first scalp in his rapidly escalating battle with the church and the media, which began when a string of sex scandals struck Mr Berlusconi himself.

The 72-year-old medial mogul was sued for divorce by his wife Veronica who said he had been "frequenting minors". He was later accused of leading a riotous sex life involving numerous young women, some of them prostitutes. Mr Boffo's paper has published several articles strongly critical of Mr Berlusconi's behaviour.

When Il Giornale let fly at Boffo, Mr Berlusconi distanced himself from the attack. But the church took it personally, calling the allegations "disgusting" and cancelling a dinner planned for Mr Berlusconi with a leading churchman. Relations between church and government went into the deep freeze.

But on Monday, an Italian court confirmed the substance of Il Giornale's claims and now Boffo has gone, still protesting his innocence.

Church and State: A special intimacy

* The Catholic Church's political control over central Italy was ended in 1871 with Italian unification.

* State-church relations were established in 1929 with the Lateran Pact.

* After the Second World War, the church-backed Christian Democrats began four decades of domination.

* The Democristiani collapsed in 1992 amid bribery scandals.

* Today the church still exerts strong pressure over hotly debated social issues such as gay rights and fertility.