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Berlusconi says has 'cordial relations' with pope

Monti endorsed by L'Osservatore Romano, not Vatican, says ex-PM

02 January, 18:47
Berlusconi says has 'cordial relations' with pope (see related stories) (ANSA) - Rome, January 2 - Ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi boasted Wednesday that he has good relations with Pope Benedict XVI in the latest in a long series of TV appearance ahead of next month's general elections in Italy. Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in November 2011 when the country's debt crisis threatened to spiral out of control and his government was replaced by an emergency administration of unelected technocrats led by outgoing Premier Mario Monti.

Several Italian Catholic publications have strongly criticised the media magnate, who has been hit by a series of sex scandals and was given a four-year prison sentence in October in relation to tax fraud in the trading of film rights for TV broadcasts by his Mediaset media empire. But the 76-year-old media magnate said he has a warm relationship with the head of the Church.

"I've received telephone calls and made visits to pontiffs," three-time Italian premier Berlusconi told Sky television.

"There is also absolute devotion on my part with the current pope and absolute cordiality with me on his part". Berlusconi also said that the recent endorsement of Monti's bid for office by Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano did not mean the former European commissioner had the backing of the Holy See.

"It wasn't an endorsement from the Vatican but from L'Osservatore Romano, and that is very different," Berlusconi said. "We have excellent relations (with the Church). We are liberals and we think there should be freedom of conscience, but we always behaved a certain way with issues regarding the Church in government and we always received praise from the Vatican and the Church".

Berlusconi said the fact that he had dropped plans to retire from frontline politics to lead the centre-right at the upcoming elections did not necessarily mean he would be the coalition's premier if they won.

He said coalitions only name a premier candidate after the elections, as well as a candidate to be the next Italian president, a post he is thought to hold ambitions of holding.

He also accused Monti of breaking a vow not to enter the political fray made when the former European commissioner was appointed premier with the backing of Italy's three biggest mainstream political groups, including Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party. "Monti does not have credibility any more," he said. "He was put at the head of a technocrat government with a promise - he said he would not take advantage of the promotion. "He promised all the Italian people and now we find him as the leader of a coalition of fellow travellers". Berlusconi also expressed confidence he could revive the PdL's long-standing alliance with the Northern League, which ended after Berlusconi's third government collapsed.

The League were staunch opponents of Monti's government from the time it took over power, while the PdL backed it until last month.

Northern League leader Roberto Maroni recently told Berlusconi that the alliance would not be resumed if the ex-premier were to run for office again.

"The alliance is in a phase in which the details are being addressed," Berlusconi said.

"I'm convinced that we will be allied like we were for many years".

The PdL is behind in the polls and has little chance of winning next month's elections without the support of the League.