Italian bishop accused of wrecking Christmas magic for children.
A bishop in Sicily has stirred controversy in Italy after he told his stunned congregation, including many small children, that "Santa Claus does not exist."
His words "froze" the children present in the church in Noto, reports Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, leading to complaints from parents and a major backlash on social media.
Bishop Antonio Staglianò then launched an attack on Coca Cola, saying that the red costume of Father Christmas "was chosen for advertising purposes."
The bishop's unexpected outburst from the pulpit of the Santissimo Salvatore church resulted in "speechless children, bewildered parents", reports the Corriere.
The clergyman later explained his intentions. "I said that Santa Claus is not a historical person like St Nicholas", as part of an attempt to "recover the true meaning of the Christian tradition of Christmas".
The bishop then waded deeper by stating: "For the rest, the children know that Santa Claus is their dad or their uncle. So no broken dreams."
Amid a storm of criticism and accusations that the bishop had "wrecked Christmas" for children, the diocese of Noto issued a statement trying to calm the situation.
Don Alessandro Paolino, diocesan head of social communications, stated: "First of all, in the name of the bishop, I express my regret for this declaration which has generated disappointment in the littlest ones".
The statement specified that the bishop's intentions "were quite different, that is to reflect with greater awareness on the meaning of Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it."
For many however it was too late, with "Babbo Natale" trending on Twitter alongside unkind comparisons between the bishop and the Grinch, the fictional character who stole Christmas.
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Italy bishop tells kids Santa Claus is not real
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