May 21, 2007 -- A political row has erupted inItaly over whether state television should air a BBC documentaryabout the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. The dispute broke out after a conservative politician saidRAI should block the documentary because it was part of what hecalled "a media execution squad ready to open fire on the Churchand the Pope".
Mario Landolfi, head of the parliament's oversight committeefor the broadcaster, asked RAI director general Claudio Capponto deny permission to air "Sex Crimes and the Vatican".
Michele Santoro, a progressive and left-leaning journalist,wants to air it as the centrepiece of his talk show "Year Zero".The row comes at a time of heated debate over whether the Churchhas too much influence over Italy's political life.
The documentary was aired on the BBC in October but never inItaly, although bloggers have translated it and it now ranks asGoogle Video Italia's (www.video.google.it) most popular item.
Leftist politicians immediately attacked Landolfi's request.
"Neither the oversight committee or individual politicianshave the right to ask for a preventive censorship of anyjournalists or topic," said Giuseppe Giulietti, aparliamentarian who was once a journalists' union leader at RAI.
Italy's powerful Roman Catholic Church has already condemnedthe documentary. At the weekend, Avvenire, the newspaper of theItalian Bishops Conference, accused bloggers who put thedocumentary on the web of spreading "infamous slander".
Two leftists lawmakers, Giovanni Russo Spena and GennaroMigliore, said in a joint statement that the documentary shouldbe aired because "paedophilia in the Catholic Church is wellknown, there is no mystery about it".
Surprisingly, right-wing parliamentarian AlessandraMussolini, granddaughter of Italy's wartime dictator, said it should be shown if it is not used to attack the Church. But shesaid she did not trust Santoro, the RAI journalist.
Centrist politician Antonio Satta said the documentary was"trash journalism" which he said "starts with a premise and doeseverything to prove it despite the way things really were".
The BBC documentary examined what it described as secretVatican documents setting out procedures to deal with generalabuse of confessional secrets by a priest to silence his victim.
The original document, written in 1962, was updated in 2001to deal more specifically with paedophilia as the Church aroundthe world became embroiled in a string of sexual abuse scandals.
British bishops last year criticised the BBC, saying itshould be "ashamed of the standard of the journalism used tocreate this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict".
Before his election as Pope in 2005, then-Cardinal JosephRatzinger headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,the Vatican department that enforces doctrine.
Leftist parliamentarian Giuseppe Caldarola said it was"unacceptable" that the Italian public could be denied somethingmade available to the British.
"The Vatican should realise that preventive censorship is asign of weakness," Caldarola said.