Angelo Bagnasco said the political quagmire was sowing the seeds of an "anthropological disaster" where the young saw easy money, moral compromise and "selling oneself" as the road to success instead of hard work and playing by the rules.
Italy's Catholic Church tells Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is mired in a sex scandal, that immoral behaviour by politicians hurt the country's image. Italians say the church is right to speak out but think it will make little difference.
In an eagerly awaited speech, Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops Conference, spoke of "worrying clouds over Italy," "the pitfalls of hypocrisy," and of a "moral malaise" sweeping the country.
"This country needs to overcome in a quick and definitive manner, this ethical weakness and political fibrillation which we see become ever more threatening, in which power is not just looked upon with indifference but conflicts with logic, something which has been happening for too many years," Bagnasco said.
"Whoever accepts a public position must understand the sobriety, personal discipline, sense of measure and honour that come with it," he added.
Since the Church had announced that Bagnasco would address the so-called "Ruby affair" in his speech, there was no doubt what, or who he was talking about.
Significantly, Bagnasco's speeches are usually vetted by the Vatican, meaning his words had the approval of Pope Benedict, who last week made an thinly veiled reference to the scandal when he spoke of the need for the rediscovery of moral principles.
The country, Bagnasco said, was drifting from "one abnormal situation to the other" as the public remained "horrified" by the acts of politicians and suffering from "moral malaise".
"Too many today, each in their own way, contribute to a general turmoil, a certain confusion, to a climate of reciprocal de-legitimisation. This - as it is easy to see - could leave a profound mark on the collective soul, if not a wound," he said.
While Italy's Church has clearly been irked by Berlusconi's various sex scandals over the past two years, it has until now held its fire because many in the church hierarchy feel more comfortable with a conservative government at Italy's helm.
But Bagnansco's comments indicated that the latest scandal was too much and that the Church has decided to abandon its realpolitik in favour of the moral high ground.
'Priests: Italy is dismayed' ran one newspaper headline on Tuesday, 'Italy shocked, needs sobriety' ran another.'
Italians on Tuesday (January 25) applauded the church for speaking out against weak moral behaviour but said it was unlikely to affect the behaviour of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"The Church is doing what it has to, it is inevitable that it speaks out about this kind of behaviour that is affecting our country. Everything they say is completely legitimate," said Rome resident Pierluigi Mucchia.
"The Church and the Catholic world have their position and rightly get involved. But you have to weigh up whether their comments make any difference or not. But I do think politics should be on one side and the Church the other," said Mario Pastore on his way to work.
Milan prosecutors alleged that Berlusconi paid for sex with a "significant" number of prostitutes, including a 17-year old nightclub dancer who goes by the name of "Ruby the Heart Stealer," at parties in his luxurious villa.
"I don't vote for Berlusconi but those who do vote for him will continue to vote for him, we will have him for ages still," said Rome resident Francesco Musso.
The 74-year-old prime minister, who has survived a string of sex scandals in the past two years, denies any wrongdoing and says he has never paid for sex and that politically motivated leftist magistrates are bent to destroy him.
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