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Italian Catholics alarmed by brothel proposal

A suggestion by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that state-run brothels, outlawed 44 years ago, may return to Italy has been condemned as "obscene and scandalous" by Catholic commentators.

Berlusconi told the conservative daily Libero: "Like many Italians I am fed up with the shame I feel whenever I go out on the streets with my children.

State-run brothels, often associated in the popular imagination with Benito Mussolini's fascist regime, were closed in 1958. Prostitution was made legal, but not living a prostitute's earnings.

"The idea of reopening the brothels is obscene and scandalous," Fr Oreste Benzi, a priest who works to free prostitutes from their profession, said. "That's the state legalising the trade in human flesh, declaring in fact that a woman is an object, a piece of merchandise. It's a scandal and an injustice," he told the online newspaper Il Nuovo.

"No woman wants to sell her own body, there is always someone who forces her into prostitution. And this way the state becomes an accomplice of her pimps."