A Catholic cleric in Italy has become one of the most controversial figures in the country in recent days after telling children that Santa Claus did not actually exist.
Speaking at an event in Noto, Sicily, on St. Nicola’s Day on December 6th, Bishop Antonio Stagliano said,”Santa Claus is not real. His red suit was also invented by Coca Cola for advertising purposes.”
According to Italian media, the words left “the children’s mouths open and the parents horrified.”
The Bishop of Noto, Stagliano, later clarified, “I said that Santa claus is an imaginary character with roots in St. Nicola, but not a historical person like St. Nicola. Only mothers were angry, children already know that Santa claus is actually their father or uncle-uncle.”
The cleric said he wanted to remind the true meaning of Christmas in his Catholic faith and send a message of sharing rather than consumption, but his remarks shortly before Christmas sparked a huge wave of backlash.
There have been critics of the bishop with sarcastic messages, as well as those accusing him of trying to take on the role of parents and missing the magic of Christmas.
On social media, messages such as “Santa claus is as real as God” and images of Santa saying “No God” were posted.
The Diocese of Noto issued a statement saying they were “sorry for this statement, which disappointed the minors.”
Meanwhile, the diocese’s statement expressed displeasure that Christmas had become a consumption-oriented holiday:
“If there’s one lesson to be learned from the Santa figure based on St. Nicola, it’s: less gifts, less consumption, more donations and sharing.”
Bishop Stagliano addressed the children in a statement to La Repubblica newspaper.
“Dear children, I did not say no Santa Claus, Santa claus exists as an imaginary character but not as a historical and concrete person.”
Stagliano said his goal was to remind him of the true message of Christmas, which was “the gift given to all mankind by the birth of Jesus.”
The Bishop, meanwhile, stressed that St. Nicola of Demre, on which the Figure of Santa claus is based, does not distribute gifts, but helps the poor.
“So I’d like to ask Santa: Excuse me, Santa, why are you only bringing gifts to those with money? Aren’t there starving kids, why don’t you go to them? St. Nicola of Demre was going to those kids who had nothing.”