A Roman Catholic diocese in Sicily apologised after reports emerged that its bishop had told children that Santa did not exist.
In a Facebook post, the diocese of Noto said that Bishop Antonio Stagliano's intent was not "to break the charm of Christmas for little ones".
Diocese communications director Alessandro Paolino expressed his "sorrow" for the declaration and said the bishop was trying to reflect on the greater meaning of Christmas "starting with the historical figure of St. Nicholas who dispensed gifts to the poorest."
Italian news reports quoted Stagliano as saying during a recent religious festival that Santa doesn’t exist and that his red costume was created by the Coca-Cola company for publicity.
"We certainly must not demolish the imagination of children, but draw good examples from it that are positive for life,” Paolino said.
He said that from the figure of Santa Claus, people should draw a lesson about giving and sharing instead of consumerism.
But, if the public comments section of the Noto page were any indication, the Sicilian parents weren’t having any of it.
While several welcomed the bishop's attempt to focus on the Catholic meaning of Christmas, others faulted Stagliano for interfering with family traditions and celebrations and crushing the spirits of children whose early years were disrupted by the pandemic.
"You are the demonstration that, when it comes to families, children and family education, you don’t understand a thing," a commenter, identified as Mary Avola, wrote.
Paolino responded to comments with another apology: "Dear parents, we are very sorry to have offended your sensitivity, we are well aware of your important and irreplaceable educational role."
"However, I reiterate that the intentions were not intended to extinguish the expectation of the little ones regarding Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it."