Page last updated at 21:02 GMT, Wednesday, 12 August 2009 22:02 UK

Church 'mortified' by Berlusconi

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi insists he has nothing to apologise for

The Roman Catholic Church has expressed "unease" and "mortification" over revelations surrounding the private life of Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi.

In some of the strongest Church criticism to date, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference condemned Mr Berlusconi's "arrogant" behaviour.

His political party relies heavily on the support of Catholic voters.

However the prime minister's reported dealings with younger women have not greatly damaged his approval ratings.

The editor of the Avvenire newspaper, Dino Boffo, wrote in an editorial:

"Have people been able to identify the Church's reservations?

"It seems to me that... people have understood the unease, the mortification, the suffering that such an arrogant abandonment of a sober style has caused us."

Sex allegations

There have been a series of allegations about Mr Berlusconi's private life over the past few months.

Media attention first focused on an alleged relationship between the prime minister and 18-year-old Noemi Letizia.

Mr Berlusconi attended her birthday party, bringing a 6,000 euro (£5,160; $8,500) necklace, prompting his wife Veronica to seek a divorce and accuse her husband of "consorting with minors".

The prime minister initially said he had only gone to Ms Letizia's party because she was the daughter of a family friend, but photographs later emerged of them together at social events last year, when she was 17.

He also confirmed she had stayed at his villa in Sardinia.

More recently the left-leaning Italian magazine L'Espresso published transcripts and audio of an alleged encounter between Mr Berlusconi, 72, and an escort, Patrizia D'Addario.

The prime minister's lawyers insist the tapes are fakes and have insisted he had never paid for sex.

'No skeletons'

In a news conference last week, Silvio Berlusconi again dismissed criticism of his private life.

He said he had nothing to apologise for and no skeletons in his cupboard.

In an interview published on Wednesday in Il Giornale newspaper - which is owned by his family - the prime minister criticised photographers who shot pictures of his daughter's birthday party at his Sardinian villa last week.

"I deserve to be left in peace: enough violations of privacy."

The weeks of scandals have only slightly dented the Italian leader's popularity.

He still enjoys a 49% approval rating and a majority in both houses of parliament.

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