Italian church apologises after bishop tells children 'Santa does not exist'
A Roman Catholic diocese in Sicily has apologised to parents after its bishop reportedly told a group of children that Santa Claus did not exist.
At a religious event last week, Bishop Antonio Staglianò also said Santa's red costume had been chosen by Coca-Cola for publicity, Italian media report.
The comments infuriated parents.
In an apology, Rev Alessandro Paolino, from the diocese of Noto, said the bishop had tried to underline the true meaning of Christmas.
He also said the comments had been aimed at highlighting the story of Saint Nicholas, the initial inspiration for the figure of Santa Claus and known for giving gifts to the poor.
"First of all, on behalf of the bishop, I express my sorrow for this declaration, which has created disappointment in the little ones, and want to specify that Monsignor Stagliano's intentions were quite different," Rev Paolino said in a post on the diocesan Facebook page.
Rev Paolino, who is the communications director for the diocese of Noto, said the bishop had wanted the children to "reflect about the meaning of Christmas", saying that the date had become known for consumerism.
"If we can all draw a lesson, young or old, from the figure of Santa Claus... it is this: fewer gifts to 'create' and 'consume' and more 'gifts' to share," the statement said.
In an interview with newspaper La Repubblica, the bishop said he had not told the children that Santa did not exist but that there was a need to "distinguish what is real from what is not".
"A real fact has emerged, namely that Christmas no longer belongs to Christians," he said (in Italian). "The Christmas atmosphere between lights and shopping has taken the place of Christmas."