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The Right's most embarrassing representative on the world stage?

He is arrogant. He calls himself "Superman" and recently boasted: "I am by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150-year history."

He is intolerant. He is taking legal action against a number of newspapers who have criticised him and recently took a commercial interest in the last TV station that had been critical of him.

He denies having paid for sex, protesting that "the joy is in the conquest" but the Italian press are full of stories of sexual infidelity, relationships with very young women and with escorts.

Despite all this, his popularity - although down - largely endures and he has overcome critics in his own party.

In the latest edition of Standpoint magazine, Mara Delius wonders if the Vatican can bring Italy's PM down to earth:

"Berlusconi's aides know that support from Catholic voters is crucial to their government — but they also know that Berlusconi hardly faces a viable alternative, let alone strong political opposition. He may be an old man in a hurry, but he still has the magic touch it needs to be the master of his house of cards. His virility may only be powered by verbal Viagra, but currently the appeal he creates with it is strong enough to divert attention from the political scandals which in any other Western country would put him on trial.  The one thing that Berlusconi might not reckon with is that the strongest opposition to his kind of politics could be the source of moral authority that he has always taken for granted: the Catholic Church. At a time when young Italians are fleeing the country in search of better education and job prospects, there is a yearning for someone to say: "Basta!" ("Enough!") Doesn't this call for the Church to recall its responsibility to stand in our way, to beseech us not to look away while continuing as we were?"


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