Mr. Berlusconi had sought to exploit the event for his own mundane concerns. Given his considerable media power the image of himself together with Vatican potentates, notably the Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, would have been an excellent marketing device to reinvigorate his dwindling consensus. The discrete negotiations however had caused outcry within the Catholic Curia and among many Catholics. Berlusconi's plan was perceived as a cynical move to feign contrition without outright admitting his "sins." Catholic scholars pointed out that Berlusconi could in no way be pardoned whether he participated or not in the Perdonanza, a matter wholly beside the point in a world governed by images. Further it was suspected- and still is- that Berlusconi would make major concessions to the Vatican in a pactum sceleris, quite frequent in affairs of State.
What Berlusconi and his war cabinet sought to achieve by taking the two initiatives in combination remains in the realm of hypothesis, as events quickly spoiled the best laid plans. The Vatican cancelled the meeting with Berlusconi leaving him floundering long into the night with his closest collaborators.
The primary cause of the Vatican's act is now attributed to the false charges against the director of the Catholic daily L'Avvenire, Dino Boffo, by Berlusconi's principal house organ, il Giornale. Berlusconi has denied having inspired, or been knowledgeable, of his paper's malicious smear campaign. I'll treat that question in detail below.
Dino Boffo has waged a campaign against Berlusconi for his sexual philandering and dishonesty since the scandal blew open. The Berlusconi camp responded with its own artillery, usually accusing the Catholic press- along with the international press- of being hoodwinked into believing falsehoods propagated by a Left that had no other argument but slander.
Il Giornale's full page spreads alleged that Dino Boffo had been condemned in 2004 for molesting a woman over his homosexual relation with her husband. The scoop, which the new director Vittorio Feltri vindicates as his own, has since turned out to be based on yet another false document.
Rumor of the existence of the case were first reported by a blogger-reporter Marco Adinolfi, in 2005. However, his 2005 article has no substance, nor did it name Boffo. It amounted to innuendo. Adinolfi congratulated Feltri for having procured a document that he had been unable to view in 2004 because of a court decision, admitted that such a document existed in the first place.
In the meantime the Minister of Interior had ordered an investigation into the allegations. The nature of the document as reported would have constituted a grave violation of the law: The document implied that the police gathered records on people's sexual preferences and habits.
Friday afternoon the Minister declared that no such record had ever been made. He called Boffo to assure him that the police had no records concerning him. The national police chief remarked that the police had so many transgender men and women working within the corps that it was useless to even ask if the police kept files on peoples' sexual habits.
Feltri then published the document on Saturday. A reader on-line, alfo.m, quickly pointed out a number of procedural inconsistencies in the document. His post was removed, but later posted on another site.
The head of the powerful Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, issued an official letter renewing his esteem for Dino Boffo and describing Feltri's attack as "pure journalistic killerage," "an unbelievable, captious and absurd affair," "a disgusting, grave fact." He added, "we are- and I weigh my words- in a barbarian state [of affairs]."
On Sunday, Giuseppe D'Avanzo took apart Feltri's document point by point, asserting that it was yet another fabrication. (I'll spare the details of his analysis as it requires a knowledge of Italian legal procedure).
As of this writing (Monday evening) the procura of Terni confirmed that there had never existed an "informative note" detailing Boffo's sexual preferences. The dossier of the complaint, which was settled with an agreement by Boffo to pay a fine of 516 Euros in order to close the matter, awaits a final court decision for its possible public release. Until its eventual release, it is not known what the complaint was about. It is however common in Italy to simply pay fines rather than waste years and resources in long drawn out controversies. Paying a modest fine is hardly an admission of guilt.
D'Avanzo concluded that he had raised the matter in one of his questions, the 9th precisely of the second set of questions:
Lei ha parlato di un "progetto eversivo" che la minaccia. Può garantire di non aver usato né di voler usare intelligence e polizie contro testimoni, magistrati, giornalisti?
You have spoken of a "subversive plan" that threatens you. Can you guarantee not having used and not wanting to use intelligence and the police force against witnesses, magistrates and journalists?
There is a autobiographical note in this question. During the Abu Omar case D'Avanzo and Bonini learned that they were under surveillance by deviate members of the Services under the direction of Pio Pompa and Marco Mancini. At the time Vittorio Feltri's paper, Libero, was also implicated through the reporter Renato Farina whose license to practice journalism was revoked for moonlighting as a spy. Feltri was also kicked out of the Order of Journalists.
Throughout Berlusconi's previous mandate, numerous flex groups actively fabricated false dossiers against witnesses, magistrates, intellectuals, journalists, rival businessmen and political opponents both in Italy and abroad. Two major parliamentary commissions, the Telekom Serbija Commission and the Mitrokhin Commission, wilfully and maliciously funnelled farragoes against major political opponents, feeding it on a daily basis to Berlusconi's papers and media in time for maximum evening exposure- just as Joe McCarthy had done in the 50's. Throughout the XIV legislature false charges were fabricated against Arab and Ukrainian "terrorists" resulting in long term preventive prison detention. Berlusconi's Italy played a crucial role in promoting the aggression in Iraq by fabricating false dossiers and withholding crucial evidence on Italian weaponry that would have confirmed Saddam's arguments on Aluminium procurement.
Vittorio Feltri is the Cody Jarret of Italian journalism. Berlusconi pretends to distance himself from him, just as his close collaborators do. De la Boetie's voluntary slaves know what to do without being told and they expect public dissociation from their acts. It's called creating an alibi. When Berlusconi's wife asked for divorce, Feltri published nude pictures of her. Berlusconi denied involvement. But in the game of promotion and demotion that characterizes these past months, it is Feltri who was offered a multi-million euro contract by Berlusconi, Silvio, not his brother Paolo who plays figurehead as the owner of the family Giornale. When Feltri accepted, the Council President called him to his official residence for an hour long discussion. It would have been more in keeping to have him along for a Saturday night fling at his private residence.
Feltri and his entourage use the ad hominem argument that "who is free of sins, cast the first stone" or more colourfully "Don't look for a blade of grass in eye of another when you have stake in your own." But putting on the same level the head of the government with broad powers and public responsibilities with a private citizen strains the comparison. Even if Boffo had homosexual relations with Milan prostitutes, he would only have to answer for his professional capacities and relations on the job. What Feltri clearly seeks is to tax Boffo with a charge of hypocrisy and inconsistency with the further intention to get him fired for his outspoken position on Berlusconi's sexual philandering from a Catholic viewpoint. His participation in the Perdonanza along side Cardinal Bertone would have added gravity to the affair for it would also have sent the message that the Church is not fully supportive of Boffo's editorial line.
In effect the operation aims at sabotaging argument. The goal of any discussion or argument is to contribute to agreement. The frame of the discussion in this case is a sexual scandal of vast proportion- and all that it may imply- for which the head of the government is called to answer by civic and religious instances. By mounting crudely false disinformation campaigns against his critics, Berlusconi is once again shirking accountability.
Many epithets and terms have been used recently to describe Berlusconi and his actions, "buffoon", "clown", "sexual addict", "Ego-archist", "hysteric," "nihilist," "populist demagogue." But perhaps few terms get to the core of berlusconismo as well as the notion of paranoia.
In recent decades the debate on the nature of states, on democracy and its totalitarian and authoritarian degenerations, has seen the introduction of paranoia as a political concept. 1984 and Darkness at Noon masterly describe totalitarian systems based on paranoia. Modern Europe has set the foundations for a democratic covenant based on the inalienable rights of peoples, thus making outright totalitarian states within its borders impossible. This however hardly concerns grave constitutional crisis within individual states nor experimental adventurism within a democratic framework. Pure democracy is the potential antecamera of tyranny, all the more so when elites seek to subvert or renegotiate constitutional rule from a majority position. A classic tool is the subversion of public discourse, the imposition of one monolithic, granitic ideology. In that it recalls paranoia. The imposition of a "private truth." The paranoid personality lives in absolute certainty, a "private truth" that "excludes all data that are not congruent, reinterpreting and simplifying them and above all banning all doubt." "Paranoid delirium is an articulated system of lucid coherent thought, with a strong logical structure, without confusion, and capable of meticulous previsions that are regularly self-confirmed. The privileged themes are those of persecution and jealousy." (La verità private, Roberto Lorenzini and Sandra Sassaroli, 1992).
It is not my intention to indulge in facile psychology. Berlusconi's psyche hasn't the importance of his devastating actions on the state and society. He has emptied parliament of its primary prerogative and reduced it to notary outhouse where deliberative debate is drowned in crass insults. His obsessive control of all strategic news outlets and near monopoly on entertainment have profoundly altered the public forum, reducing the debate of ideas and beliefs to trite slogans and coffee bar banter. His laws have incapacitated the judiciary branch to offer the citizens their right to security and fairness. Not content with the damage inflicted he seeks to subjugate the remaining independent branches of the state to his executive. He is seeking to ban public knowledge of criminal investigations until trials are arraigned and intends to drastically limit the investigative powers of the judiciary by gravely limiting the instruments of investigation, such as authorized wiretaps, on his trumped up, self-serving notion of privacy. At the same time he intends to grant or expand the power of the police and other services to make unauthorized wiretaps that would have no legal value in court. For what reason if not to conserve his bulimic compulsion to stay in power and control whatever he can? To be universally adored and loved? A totalitarian nightmare based on applause. The over-aged star prances out on stage while a paid audience applauds wildly. Those at home, plebeian spectators indulge in vicarious rapture. Yet not content, Berlusconi bores prostitutes into the night with interminable films of his prodigies, luncheon sandwiches and butterflies, stay-up stockings and potions.
While his frenetic do-nothing government remains enthralled by its own image.