A Roman Catholic diocese in Sicily, Italy has made a public apology after its bishop told a group of children that Santa Claus does not exist.
According to Italian news reports, in addition to denying Santa’s existence, Bishop Antonio Stagliano also said that Santa’s red outfit was created by the drinks company Coca-Cola for publicity purposes.
In a Facebook post on Friday, the diocesan communications director, Rev Alessandro Paolino explained that it was not the intention of Mr Stagliano to disappoint the youngsters in the build-up to Christmas.
"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," Mr Paolino wrote.
"We certainly must not demolish the imagination of children, but draw good examples from it that are positive for life," he continued.
"Santa Claus is an effective image to convey the importance of giving, generosity, sharing. But when this image loses its meaning, you see Santa Claus aka consumerism, the desire to own, buy, buy and buy again, then you have to revalue it by giving it a new meaning."
The apology did not however appease all of the affected parents, some of whom responded angrily to Mr Paolino’s post.
“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.
Other parents welcomed the bishop's attempt to focus on the “true” meaning of Christmas.