ROME Pope Benedict called on Thursday for an "ethical renewal" in Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is battling a scandal over parties with prostitutes and showgirls.
In a telegram sent to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano before the pontiff's visit to his native Germany, the pope expressed his "hope of an ever-more intense ethical renewal for the good of beloved Italy."
The pontiff made no direct reference to the latest sex scandal which has engulfed 74-year-old Berlusconi just as financial troubles have raised fears that the Italian economy could suffer a Greek-style debt crisis.
Wiretapped conversations published by Italian newspapers have quoted Berlusconi as boasting of "doing eight girls" in one night, organizing trysts with prostitutes at his private residences and making vulgar jokes with a businessman suspected of supplying the women.
Anger is growing in Italy over a privileged political class seen as corrupt and unwilling to share in sacrifices as Italians deal with painful austerity measures.
The Vatican, which wields great influence in Catholic Italy, weighed in on Berlusconi's sex scandals in January as well, when it called on Italian politicians to show "robust morality."
Asked about the significance of the pope's words, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters in Berlin:
"I think it's clear, when one looks at the situation in Italy, that there is a whole series of problems that also have to do with ethics, in personal actions, in economic activities, in social relations."
He added: "In this sense, I'd say the pope always speaks about the ethical side of politics. We have a lot to do to improve the situation in Italy responsibly."
(Reporting by Deepa Babington in Rome and Philip Pullella in Berlin; Editing by David Stamp)