Pope meets Italy's Berlusconi after criticism of immigration policy
M & C
Jun 6, 2008, 11:41 GMT
Vatican City – Pope Benedict XVI on Friday met Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for talks that came on the heels of Vatican criticism of Italy's new conservative government's immigration policies.
Benedict received Berlusconi, accompanied by his close aide, Undersecretary Gianni Letta, at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
The talks which were held in the pope's library, lasted around 40 minutes.
They focused on 'themes related to the Italian situation and the contribution of the Catholic Church to the country's life,' the Vatican said in a statement.
The 'prospects for the spiritual ethical and social development' of Europe were also discussed, the statement said.
Friday's meeting was the first between Berlusconi and the pontiff since the premier was elected to office for the third time in April.
In an interview with the Vatican's newspaper published ahead of the talks, Berlusconi praised the Roman Catholic Church's role in Italian society and said it had a right to express its opinion.
Vatican officials have spoken out recently on plans by the Berlusconi government to make illegal immigration a crime.
Earlier this week, Berlusconi, in the face of widespread criticism, including from the UN, appeared to backtrack on the issue, saying illegal entry into Italy should be regarded as an 'aggravating circumstance' for people facing criminal charges.
However, he later said this was his 'personal opinion' and that a government security package, including the criminalization of illegal immigration, would be presented before parliament.
The church, which has often been criticized by liberals and leftists of interference in Italian politics, defends what it says is its duty to intervene on ethical matters, including abortion and same-sex unions.
Benedict recently welcomed what he called a 'new climate' in Italian politics, a reference to Berlusconi's overtures to the opposition, which includes the centrist Catholic Union of Christian Democrats, and the centre-left Democratic Party.