Italy's longest-serving premier and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has died aged 86. He'd recently been in hospital with a lung infection linked to leukaemia.
His political career was marked by scandals over his sex-fuelled parties and allegations of corruption. He held the job for nine years in total, but his career was hit by several scandals, including a conviction for tax fraud.
Speaking to Premier, Father Rocco D'Ambrosio, who teaches political philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University, was circumspect about his record.
“We can't deny that Berlusconi has been a key person in Italian politics in the past 30 years,” he said. “But with all respect for the person that has died, rest in peace, and the last judgement belongs to God, not to ourselves. But historically, Berlusconi has been as you say in your language, a dodgy person, a questionable person, as a person and as a politician”, he said.
In Britain however, tributes to Berlusconi were more forthcoming. Downing Street said he made a "huge impact" on Italian politics.
In a statement, former Labour prime minister and Catholic Sir Tony Blair said: "Silvio was a larger than life figure with whom I worked closely for several years as Prime Minister. I know he was controversial for many but for me he was a leader whom I found capable, shrewd and, most important, true to his word.”
According to Professor D’Ambrosio, recognition should be given to the need for Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia, which he says was required for “the needs of the moment”. “But the behaviour of the person and the politics that they introduced”, he continued, “I don't agree with for many reasons.”
The Catholic professor, who edits the magazine “Cercasi un fine” on thinking Christianly in Italian politics, said the emphasis made by the government led by Georgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy on family and marriage was a distortion of church teaching.
“The right-wing of Berlusconi and Meloni insist on some particular themes of Catholic ethics, such as abortion and euthanasia, or all the questions related to the person and to the family”, he explained.
“But they don't consider the other part of Catholic ethics, such as social problems, justice, efforts against corruption and the mafia”, he continued.
“So there is in this moment in this country, no, true and real Catholic party because some parties, are interested in some aspects and other parts of the party in other aspects”, he said. As a result, D’Ambrosio says, the affection of Catholics for Berlusconi was only ever short-lived.
But he expressed concern for the loss of Berlusconi’s moderating influence.
“I am a bit worried to be honest. Because in the government that is running the country, Berlusconi, apart from all his limitations, was the guarantee of the centre-right position”, he said.
“In this moment, the government could be run in an extreme right-wing direction, and Berlusconi was the man who wanted the government to be centre-right”, he added.
“But if the man of the centre dies, then gthe risk is that the government becomes Right, Right”, he warned.