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Berlusconi under attack over L'Aquilla

The PM's allies criticize a film at Cannes that casts him in a negative light; meanwhile, he hands his estranged wife the keys to their $105 million villa. A female priest is ordained in Rome. Moody’s apologizes for criticizing Italian banks. And World Cup fever gets underway, although the defending champs are not favored to win.

Top News: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has suffered setbacks ever since his coalition scored a strong showing in the March regional elections. A weak economy, legal troubles, and the fall out from last year’s sex scandals have all taken a toll.

Filmmaker Sabina Guzzanti, a regular Berlusconi critic, unveiled “Draquilla – Italy Trembles” at the Cannes film festival, alleging that Berlusconi’s abused his powers with his handling of last year’s earthquake in L’Aquilla (the name of the film is a combination of “Dracula” with the name of the town). Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi boycotted Cannes in protest of the film, a move that sparked wide criticism from the Italian film community. Critics said the film did the investigative work that the Berlusconi-controlled media in Italy failed to do.

Berlusconi, meanwhile, has agreed to a legal separation from wife Veronica Lario, who announced she would leave the 73-year-old billionaire last year in the wake of a series of sex scandals. But don’t feel bad for Lario: reports are that she will be the beneficiary of one of the most expensive divorce settlements in history, including more than $4.5 million per year in alimony payments and the title to the couple’s $105 million Sardinian villa. Noemi Letizia, the aspiring Neapolitan model at the heart of one of the scandals, turned 19 this month and reported she is still in touch with the prime minister, though she refused to reveal what he gave her for her birthday. 

The Catholic Church was in the news again, when a 35-year-old woman was ordained by a breakaway wing of the church, making her the first modern-era female priest ordained in Italy. The woman, a teacher named Maria Longhitano, was ordained near the Vatican, though nobody expects Holy See to recognize her status. After the ordination Longhitano said that without female priests the Catholic Church is crippled.

Money: The European economy is reeling from the debt crisis in Greece and elsewhere on the continent along with the weakening euro currency, but analysts at the Moody’s rating agency aren’t sure whether Italy is part of the problem. At first, the agency said Italian banks were under “great” pressure, but after criticism from Italian officials, they recanted and apologized. The new Moody’s line: Italy is not at great risk.

Despite the apparent soundness of the Italian economy, Italy has unveiled the terms of a fiscal austerity package it says will help it whether the European economic storm, but reviews so far have been mixed.

Google continues to attract the ire of Italian regulators. After Google officials were found guilty of privacy abuses tied to an offensive 2006 video back in February, and the company was forced to compromise on a new set of rules for Google Books a month later and then Google News earlier this month, the company’s Google Street View is under investigation. The controversy is that the company inadvertently collected information from private Wi-Fi areas that could include e-mails and passwords while filming streets with camera vehicles. The investigation will conclude within 180 days.

Elsewhere: Italy’s defense of its World Cup soccer championship officially got underway this month with a training camp in the Italian Alps that opened with coach Marcello Lippi defending his choices for the team. World Cup talk is already dominating the conversation in coffee bars around Italy, and on the front page of Italian newspapers.

Despite being the defending champs, Italy is not considered a favorite in the event, where experts expect Argentina, Brazil, or Spain to take home the trophy.  The controversy is already sparking boos from fans in Turin and an angry rebuttal from defender Fabio Cannavaro, who said the team has enough talent to win it all.

“Pessimism has always been part of our history,” Cannavaro said. “Italy has never started as favorites to win, but then we won four World Cups.”

Play starts for Italy on June 14, against Paraguay.