Suddenly everyone is alarmed at the escalation in tensions between state and church in Italy and scrambling for damage control. There is irritation on all sides about the extent of the shambles caused by the polemic over the restrictive immigration law. The crisis was recently aggravated by spicy revelations about the editor-in-chief of the Catholic newspaper "Avvenire".
After a series of attacks and threats against the Church and bishops, the "Lega Nord" is now seeking contact with the Vatican. Their leader Umberto Bossi wants to travel to Rome together with his party colleague Roberto Caledroli, minister in Silvio Berlusconi's cabinet, he announced in Bergamo on the weekend. Earlier, the head of the government, Berlusconi, had tried to prevent the conflict from spreading. He publicly distanced himself from the allegations against "Avvenire" editor-in-chief Dino Boffo. The newspaper "Il Giornale", which belongs to his family clan, had claimed that the Catholic journalist was homosexual and had been prosecuted for harassing and coercing his friend's wife. Boffo rejected these accusations in the Sunday edition of his paper: the alleged court note was a forgery. As a key witness, he presented Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the "Lega Nord", who had expressed his solidarity with him and informed him that an immediately launched investigation had brought "nothing to light". The political opposition is also seizing the moment. Berlusconi is directing the attack against the Church, claimed Senator Felice Belisario of the liberal "Italy of Values" (IdV) party. It is impossible that Berlusconi did not know about the attacks on Boffo in "Il Giornale". Boffo also received support from the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), which publishes the "Avvennire". The attacks were "distasteful and very serious," stressed CEI Chairman Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. The Vatican's restraint is striking. The "Osservatore Romano" did not go so far on the process, quoted only at the end of a long sermon message the criticism of Bagnasco. Already in the polemics of the past weeks, the Vatican had hardly expressed itself. No official word on Berlusconi's private life. Only very general statements on the law on foreigners – for example, that an "international legal agreement between countries of origin, transit and destination" of refugees and migrants is necessary. In contrast, individual Italian bishops or refugee officials had been very outspoken in their criticism of the law. Church media such as the high-circulation weekly "Famiglia Cristiana" and the "Avvenire" had also joined in. Not all of the wording had pleased the Vatican, such as the comparison made in "Avvenire" with the behavior of the Western powers toward the Shoa. Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone has been trying to bring church contacts with the Italian government back under greater Vatican direction since taking office. Here the former bishops' conference president Cardinal Camillo Ruini had had a free hand. Bertone is trying to take his successor, Bagnasco, more in hand. Bertone had also signaled an easing of tensions when he praised the government for its reconstruction work in the central Italian earthquake zone in a long interview with the "Osservatore Romano" newspaper last Friday. In L'Aquila he was to meet Berlusconi the same day. After the "Giornale" scandal, the meeting broke up. Instead, Bertone talked with Berlusconi's secretary of state and church commissioner Gianni Letta. And with this he might have already addressed next steps for calming the irritations between state and church.