VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis expressed his condolences and prayers after the death of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died June 12 at the age of 86.
In a telegram sent to Maria Elvira Berlusconi, the former premier’s oldest daughter, and signed by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, the pope expressed his closeness to her and her family members.
The pope assured her he, too, was “mourning the loss of a leading figure in Italian political life, who held public offices with an energetic spirit,” said the telegram, released by the Vatican June 12.
The pope was praying for the “eternal peace” of her “beloved father” and for all those mourning his death, it said.
Berlusconi, who was the longest-serving prime minister of the Italian republic, died in a Milan hospital after being admitted for a lung infection connected to a rare form of leukemia. A state funeral was to be held in Milan’s cathedral June 14.
He served three terms as prime minister, first winning political office in 1994. The third-wealthiest person in Italy, he had built a fortune with his media “empire” that included television networks, publishing companies and advertising agencies. He also owned the professional soccer team AC Milan for 31 years.
Church leaders in Italy had generally supported Berlusconi’s center-right coalitions since they typically favored state aid to private schools and pro-life issues. Interests diverged, however, when Berlusconi’s government pushed tough policies on immigration and his interior minister announced plans to fingerprint every Roma who lived in Italy, at least half of whom were Italian citizens.
Berlusconi faced numerous legal troubles, judicial investigations and scandals, including charges of bribery, tax fraud and sex with a minor. He was convicted on several occasions, but avoided prison because of a pardon, his age or the expiration of statutes of limitations.
Without naming Berlusconi, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, then head of the Italian bishops’ conference, used a speech to the bishops in 2011 to condemn the “licentious behavior and improper relations” of Italy’s political class. “It is sad to see the deterioration of public morals and language,” Cardinal Bagnasco said in that address.
Over the course of his terms as prime minister spanning from 1994-1995, 2001-2006 and 2008-2011, Berlusconi had private audiences at the Vatican with St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.