Bishops daily’s Boffo quits after PM family paper ‘attack’
(ANSA) – Rome, September 3 – The editor of a Catholic Church daily who criticised Silvio Berlusconi’s private life quit Thursday after the Italian premier’s family newspaper sought to expose him as a homosexual with a criminal record.
Dino Boffo, 57, tendered his resignation in a letter to Msgr Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian bishops association which publishes the Avvenire daily, saying his family and professional life had been ”raped” by a ”barbaric” attack.
”I cannot accept a war of words continuing about me day after day, (a war) that is wrecking my family and leaving Italians more and more stunned,” Boffo said in the letter. He claimed a ”shady anti-clerical power bloc” was behind the campaign started by Il Giornale and taken up by other conservative dailies.
Bagnasco said he was accepting the resignation ”with regret” and voiced ”unchanged regard” for the former editor, whom he said had been the subject of ”an indescribable media attack”.
Bagnasco and Pope Benedict XVI had supported Boffo during a week-long campaign by Il Giornale, a daily owned by the brother of the conservative premier.
Il Giornale alleged a week ago that Boffo had been fined several years ago for harassing the wife of a man with whom he was in a relationship.
After the attack, from which Berlusconi distanced himself, the premier called off a trip to a forgiveness mass reportedly set up to mend fences with Catholics concerned about reports on the premier’s alleged relationships with young women and a call girl who claimed she slept with him.
In an August 12 editorial in Avvenire, Boffo voiced ”malaise, mortification, and suffering” about the premier’s ”arrogant departure from a sober lifestyle”.
Last Friday Il Giornale’s editor Vittorio Feltri accused Boffo of being a ”supermoralist” who was not qualified to set himself up as a moral arbiter.
Feltri has refused to back down, claiming the facts of the case were clear and had not been denied. A court order on the fine Boffo paid has been released but judges have withheld details of the case, citing privacy.
Analysis: In Italy, Art. 660 of the Penal Code provides that harassment is a “contravvenzione,” (the 2nd highest of the 2 kinds of crimes which exist in Italian Criminal Law, analogous to a misdemeanor) punishable either by arrest and incarceration for up to 6 months, or by payment of a fine in an amount not greater than 516 Euros.
“Il Giornale,” a national right-leaning paper owned by the brother of the current Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, for an entire week, every day, has been charging that Dino Boffo, “Director” (Editor-in-chief) of “Avvenire,” a national Catholic newspaper owned and administered by the Italian Bishops Conference, was found guilty of a violation of Art. 660 according to a penal decree dated August 9, 2004. The decree was plastered twice on the front page of Il Giornale, which repeatedly attacked the decision of the Bishops Conference leadership to retain Boffo as Editor-in-chief, despite every one of the Italian Bishops having received an anonymous letter in early 2009 referencing the criminal record of Boffo.
Earlier this week, the Tribunal of Terni confirmed that Judge Augusto Fornaci issued a “penal decree of condemnation” against Boffo for the latter’s violation of Art. 660 of the Italian Penal Code. Specifically, Boffo was condemned for having harassed a young woman intimately involved with another young man. Boffo, when accused in court, had 15 days to defend himself. Instead of exercising his right of defense, he pleaded no contest. As a result, the judge avoided sentencing Boffo to a prison sentence, and instead imposed on Boffo the maximum pecuniary amount provided by the law, 516 Euros.
Il Giornale went one step further: it accused Boffo of having harrassed the young woman because of Boffo’s alleged sexual interest in the young man. However, il Giornale has not been able, it appears, to demonstrate the alleged sexual element of the harassment involved: the only evidence it elicits is an unsigned memorandum of unknown authority, containing numerous inconsistencies.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Giornale alleged that the memorandum was supposedly written by an intelligence agent of the Vatican Gendarmeria.
The Vatican, earlier in the week, through its spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, categorically denied that the anonymous memo was authored by its law enforcement division. Fr. Lombardi instead accused Vittorio Feltri, Editor-in-chief of the Giornale, of “fomenting chaos” and falsehoods concerning Dino Boffo. Cardinal Bagnasco, speaking for all of the Italian Bishops, publicly reiterated his deep esteem and support of Boffo, sternly condemning the Giornale’s repeated attacks on Boffo.
The key issue, according to il Giornale, was that Boffo’s employment was directly under the administrative oversight of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the Conference, and that Bagnasco decided not to give terrible weight to Boffo’s criminal record as reported in the anonymous memo. Instead, Boffo was retained.
Cardinal Bagnasco, and the Italian Bishops Conference, it appears, publicly supported Boffo staying as Director, because they saw in the Giornale’s decision to report on the hitherto little-disseminated criminal record of Boffo a mafia-style attempt to intimidate Avvenire, the newspaper run by Boffo, not to report or comment on Prime Minister Berlusconi’s alleged immoral conduct.