As one of the world's richest men, and a politically powerful one, too, Silvio Berlusconi often gets his way. But can the Italian premier make the pope change his mind?
After taking on Italy's prosecutors and far-left politicians, the conservative media mogul's latest crusade is to make it possible for divorced, remarried Catholics like himself to receive Communion.
Among Italian media giving big play Sunday to the crusade was Milan daily Il Giornale, the Berlusconi family newspaper. "Communion for the divorced as well," headlined Il Giornale.
Berlusconi approached a bishop after Mass at a church near his Sardinian villa Saturday about the possibility of the Vatican's easing its rule against Communion for Catholics who divorce and then remarry, Italian news reports said.
"Go tell that to someone higher than me," Sardinian Bishop Sebastiano Sanguinetti replied, according to Il Giornale. There was no answer Sunday afternoon at the office of the bishop or local diocese.
That "higher" someone, Pope Benedict XVI, made clear early in his papacy that the ban was staying.
Church does not permit divorce
The church does not permit divorce. In order for divorced Catholics who remarry to receive Communion, the new couple must live together as "brother and sister," Benedict said in a 2007 Vatican document.
In remarks made in a speech transmitted by satellite to a church congress about the Eucharist, in Montreal, Canada, Benedict spoke Sunday of the specialness of Communion.
"We must do all in our power to receive (Communion) with a pure heart," the pope told the congress participants. He appeared to refer to the plight of remarried-divorced Catholics when he added: "Those who cannot have Communion due to their situation will nonetheless find strength" in their desire for it and by going to Mass.
The Berlusconi-family newspaper, while devoting two pages to Berlusconi's crusade, tempered his prospects of success with comments by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, an influential prelate with close ties to the Vatican, who said the rule would stand.
Fisichella told Il Giornale: "there won't be any changes."
Many ask why
Still, Berlusconi "is posing a question that many who find themselves in the same situation pose. So many people come to us asking why," the theologian said in the interview.
In a country where the Vatican wields considerable political influence, but where many of the baptized majority commonly ignore church rules like mandatory Sunday Mass attendance, it is not infrequent for the parade of Italian politicians showing up for papal ceremonies to include divorced, remarried Catholics.
Prominent among these politicians is pro-Vatican opposition leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, who took a jab at Berlusconi for the Communion campaign.
"To me it's still the Holy Father who is the keeper of the church's rules, not the premier," Casini told Sky TG24 TV Sunday.
Italian news reports said that Berlusconi declined to take Communion on Saturday when Bishop Sanguinetti gave Communion to faithful in the church.
Berlusconi caused a small scandal a few years back, with the publication of a photo of his receiving Communion at the funeral in Tunisia of former Italian premier Bettino Craxi, the disgraced Socialist leader and political patron of the billionaire businessman.