L'Osservatore Romano said the offensive joke was a 'sad' example of the decline of public discourse in Italy

The Vatican newspaper has criticised Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for telling a “deplorable” joke about the Jews and the Holocaust.

Mr Berlusconi, chatting with supporters outside his home, told a joke about a Jew who charged a fellow Jew 3,000 euros a day to hide him in his basement during World War II.

The prime minister’s punchline was: “The Jew says, the question now is whether we should tell him Hitler is dead and the war is over.” The joke was videotaped and posted over the weekend on the website of the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

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The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the story “offends both the sentiments of believers and the sacred memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust”.

It said the prime minister’s words were a “sad” example of the uncivil language being used increasingly in politics and public life, a trend recently condemned by the Italian bishops’ conference.

The newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, Avvenire, said Mr Berlusconi’s joke was “offensive and inexplicable”.

Mr Berlusconi’s office issued a statement saying the joke was told in private, and that the responsibility for bad taste belonged to those who publicised it.

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