ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican newspaper on Thursday praised Mario Monti's announcement that he may run in February's general election, signalling that Italy's technocrat prime minister had replaced Silvio Berlusconi as the Church's preferred politician.
Monti said on Sunday that he was willing to seek a second term if a credible, reform-minded political force backed his agenda ahead of the February 24-25 parliamentary election.
On Sunday Monti said he would "rise" into politics, a thinly veiled dig at four-time premier Berlusconi, who has always said he "descended onto the field" of public service in 1994.
Monti's message was "an appeal to recover the higher and more noble sense of politics that is ... to take care of the common good," the Vatican's Osservatore Romano newspaper wrote.
Italy remains overwhelmingly Catholic, and the Church has always played a role in domestic politics. During most of the 19 years that Berlusconi led the centre right he enjoyed the backing of the Church hierarchy. He stepped down last year amid a burgeoning euro zone debt crisis and was replaced by Monti.
The Church began distancing itself from the 76-year-old Berlusconi before he resigned, after a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute and details of so-called "bunga-bunga" parties in his Milan villa emerged.
The centre left led by Pier Luigi Bersani leads in the polls, at more than 30 percent, followed by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) party that are both more than 10 percentage points behind.
Before Monti said he would enter the political ring, the four centrist parties together failed to attract more than 10 percent of the potential votes. No polls have been released since Monti's announcement.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)