Vatican calls for rapid end to Silvio Berlusconi saga
The country is dismayed says Cardinal Bagnasco, as more girls describe sex parties with Silvio Berlusconi
The scandalous private life of Silvio Berlusconi has finally drawn admonishment from a very senior member of the Roman Catholic Church. Without mentioning the prime minister by name, the president of the Italian Episcopal Conference said today: "Whoever accepts to assume a political mandate must be aware of the measures of sobriety, discipline and honour required, as our constitution also reminds us."
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, one of Pope Benedict's closest advisors, was speaking after a meeting of bishops in Ancona to discuss the "worrisome clouds" gathering around Italy's political institutions.
He spoke of the country being "dismayed" - a clear reference to the increasing sense of unease that the endless stories of Berlusconi's sex parties are bringing Italy into disrepute.
And he called for "rapid and definitive" steps to be taken to resolve the situation "in the appropriate venue" - by which he is presumed to mean the courtroom.
By chance, the Milan prosecutors who want to bring Berlusconi to justice on charges relating to the use of underage prostitutes, also signalled their desire for "rapid and definitive" action today.
They confirmed that they intend to formalise their request that Berlusconi faces a fast-track trial.
Whether a court case brings the sense of "sobriety" Cardinal Bagnasco desires seems highly unlikely, however. What's looking far more probable is a 'showgirl showdown' in court.
On the one hand, there are the various prostitutes who claim to have been paid for sex, and who have given detailed accounts of parties turning into orgies at Berlusconi's Milan villa.
Pitted against them are the showgirls who admit to having been paid in kind to attend parties at the prime minister's homes, but who insist they never took cash for sex and never witnessed anything approaching an orgy.
One such is Maria Ester Garcia Polanco, a 25-year-old aspiring model from the Dominican Republic, who gave her story to the left-leaning La Repubblica on Friday.
Polanco is one of the 14 showgirls who have been enjoying free lodging at Berlusconi's expense in the Milano Due apartment complex. She is the first of them to admit that she has had sex with the 74-year-old prime minister - but she insisted it was not for money.
Polanco said she slept with Berlusconi because she was grateful to him for helping pay her young daughter's medical bills.
She also told La Repubblica that the parties she had attended at Berlusconi's Milan home were elegant soirees and not the orgies many claim to have witnessed.
Polanco's account tallies neatly with Berlusconi's claim that he has never paid for sex. But it also goes against the mass of evidence, gleaned from wiretaps, in which witnesses speak of evenings descending into bacchanalian excess.
The question now is whether Cardinal Bagnasco's comments will touch a nerve in the country.
In a television interview on Sunday, the influential businesswoman Emma Marcegaglia harshly criticised Berlusconi's lack of leadership on important reforms and railed against the negative image being projected abroad.
"When I am abroad," she said, "I always underline that there is another Italy, an Italy that goes to bed early and wakes up early, that works and that produces, creates business, that is working hard."
That "other Italy" was the one Cardinal Bagnasco was speaking for today. ·