Papal ire as Berlusconi says he is 'political Jesus'

SILVIO Berlusconi incurred the wrath of the Vatican yesterday after comparing himself to Jesus Christ.

Italy's outspoken multi- millionaire prime minister has caused a storm with the comments, which came on the first day of official campaigning for April's general election.

Speaking at a party rally in the Adriatic port city of Ancona, Mr Berlusconi said: "I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I put up with everyone, I sacrifice myself for everyone."

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In an unusual step - seen as a clear indication of Pope Benedict XVI's displeasure - senior Cardinal Ersilio Tonini went public with criticism of Mr Berlusconi.

Cardinal Tonini said: "To compare yourself to Jesus Christ as Silvio Berlusconi has done is insensitive and opportunist.

"It was completely over the top. You just don't use the name of our Lord in an election rally.

"To speak of Christ in such a way is not good and is just not done, it is rude and opportunist.''

Just hours earlier, Mr Berlusconi had compared himself to Napoleon Bonaparte, one of his icons, who he said was the only person to have done more for his country.

Giuseppe Giulietti, an opposition MP, said: "According to information that I have, God the Father and the rest of Jesus' family did not take this very well."

Mr Berlusconi faces an uphill battle in April's elections and is trailing behind the centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Commission.

In one recent radio interview, Mr Berlusconi compared himself to Winston Churchill, saying: "Churchill saved Italy from the Nazis; now I will save Italy from the Communists."