Italy's church in media war

The knot is broken: After days of bickering about alleged stains on the vest of the Catholic editor-in-chief Dino Boffo, the attacked person gives up the management of the Catholic daily newspaper "Avvenire". With it the line of the episcopal media enterprises stands again for the assignment. Future direction will also be an ie.

He made the decision not least with consideration for his family, the editor-in-chief announced in his last editorial on Friday. At the same time, he leaves the management of the church-owned television station TV2000 and Radio Inblue. His employer, Bishops' Conference President Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, once again explicitly backed Boffo, calling him "the target of an unspeakable attack". On the other hand, Boffo's opponent in the newspaper feud, Vittorio Feltri of "Il Giornale", spoke of the "first victory in a battle". Both "Avvenire" and the nationally distributed weekly magazine "Famiglia Cristiana," a magazine of the Pauline Fathers with a respectable circulation, had repeatedly and sometimes sharply criticized certain decisions of Silvio Berlusconi's government – especially where immigration and the protection of the right of asylum were concerned. In recent months, Berlusconi's private escapades, his private contacts with the 18-year-old model Noemi Letizia and call-girl visits to his official residence have been added to the list of topics.

Backlash from the Berlusconi family The campaign against the head of "Avvenire" was a tit-for-tat response from the newspaper "Il Giornale," a paper belonging to the Berlusconi family: Boffo himself had been legally prosecuted for a spicy affair and therefore had no reason to play the moralist, wrote Vittorio Feltri, the newspaper's new editor-in-chief, who was trying to raise his profile. Boffo had harassed by telephone the wife of a man with whom he had a homosexual relationship. "Il Giornale" relied on a fine Boffo paid in 2004 to fend off a woman's lawsuit, and on an anonymous defamatory letter. Boffo sees in it a malicious construction. The national bishops' conference backed its media man. Also from the Vatican there were exoneration attempts, although rather half-heartedly. At Boffo's third offer of resignation, the bishops' conference let him go. This means that the management of the episcopal media companies is up for grabs anew. Up to now, the threads ran together at Boffo: Appointed to the chief chair of "Avvenire" 15 years ago, he also took over responsibility for the two channels founded in 1998 and four gradually introduced magazines for families, children, culture and social affairs. Two deputies will continue to manage the print sector and the broadcasters on a provisional basis. Whether the small empire will be reunited in one hand is likely to be decided by the Permanent Council of the Italian Bishops' Conference at its next meeting on 21. September discuss.

Future direction of Catholic media One topic will then probably also be the future orientation of the Catholic media. Despite all the declarations of solidarity by high churchmen, the Vatican newspaper "Osservatore Romano" recently reprimanded "Avvenire" for its Berlusconi-critical course.. The "Osservatore" is de facto under the direction of Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. The latter is increasingly seeking a role as a contributor to Italian politics, like the former influential bishops' conference president Camillo Ruini. The friction between church and government offers him an opportunity to raise his profile – also in the field of media management. Meanwhile, opposition politician Rosy Bindi (Democratic Party), referring to the outcome of the journalistic battle, spoke of a "rift between the center-right and the Catholic world". Whether that is so is open to question: as late as Thursday evening, shortly after accepting Boffo's resignation, Cardinal Bagnasco held a meeting with the leaders of the right-wing populist ruling party Lega Nord, which had been announced for days, in an attempt to bury the hatchet. According to Minister Roberto Calderoli, it should have been a "very positive" encounter.

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Christina Cherry
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