World News

Berlusconi's support among Catholics slips - poll

ROME (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s support among practising Catholics has slipped since the scandals about his private life erupted, though he still has the support of half them, according to a new poll.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (C) leaves after visiting a military coordination headquarters in Rome September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Among the 40 percent of Italians who attend church at least two or three times a month, the conservative premier’s approval rating has fallen to 50 percent from 55 percent in April, before the scandals hit the media, said the survey published on Sunday.

The wife of the 72-year-old media mogul and AC Milan soccer club owner said in May that she wanted divorce, accusing him of “frequenting minors” and of promoting attractive young women to political posts in what she termed a “trashy” system.

Then a prostitute from Bari made public details and phone recordings of nights at Berlusconi’s Rome apartment and parties with other escorts there and at his villa in Sardinia. Photos of guests cavorting naked at these parties were also published.

Berlusconi denies paying women for sex. His lawyer, who has announced libel suits against some Italian and foreign papers, famously said the premier was only the “end user”.

Polls of the broader public suggest that Berlusconi, who won a third term last year and has largely avoided taking the blame for the worst recession in post-war history, has lost some votes to the scandals but still has around 50 percent support levels.

The church’s own popularity among the faithful has risen slightly in recent months to 85 percent from 83, said ISPO chief Renato Mannheimer in the poll for Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Berlusconi’s counterattack on the media for its coverage of the sex scandals has included a widely-criticised report about the editor of Catholic newspaper Avvenire, on the front pages of Il Giornale newspaper which is run by Berlusconi’s brother.

After Avvenire’s editor Dino Boffo criticised Berlusconi for his lifestyle, Il Giornale reported that Boffo had been fined in 2004 for harassing the wife of his homosexual lover.

Boffo denies this and is supported by the most senior Roman Catholic clerics, but he resigned on Thursday amid a blazing row between the Vatican and the Berlusconi camp, which according to ISPO constitutes the biggest bloc of Catholic voters.