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In a thoughtless attempt to get families to focus on the Christian message behind Christmas, Bishop Antonio Stagliano of Noto, Sicily told an audience (full of children) at a religious festival that Santa was a figment of their imagination.

“No, Santa Claus does not exist. In fact, I would add that the red of the suit he wears was chosen by Coca Cola exclusively for advertising purposes,” Antonio Staglianò told the children, according to Sicilian media. … Staglianò also revisited the comments in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Friday, saying, “I didn’t tell them that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but we talked about the need to distinguish what is real from what is not.”

And who better to explain the difference between fact and fiction than a man who believes consecrated communion wafers literally become the body of Christ?

The diocese has since issued an apology on Stagliano’s behalf:

“First of all, on behalf of the Bishop, I express regret for this statement that has disappointed the children, and want to clarify that this was not at all Mr. Staglianò’s intention,” the statement said. Paolini said the bishop’s aim was to “reflect on the meaning of Christmas and the beautiful traditions that accompany it with greater awareness and “regain the beauty of a Christmas now increasingly ‘commercial’ and ‘de-Christianized.’

It’s not that Stagliano said something false. It’s that he took a celebration all about generosity, charity, and a cultural figure kids love and made it all about his own priorities. He’s not satisfied if kids are celebrating Christmas for reasons that don’t promote his own religion, so he went ahead and ruined a temporary but mostly harmless tradition for their families by pretending there’s a War on Christmas.

I guess that should count as training for all the other things the Catholic Church is going to ruin in their lifetimes.

Even believers weren’t happy with the remarks, though, as noted by the Associated Press:

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.

Fair point. Priests without families of their own may want to hold off on telling parents Santa is the real problem. At a time when joy is already in short supply, treating Santa like he’s a problem is really a self-own for religion. If letting kids enjoy Santa for a few years is bad news for the Church, then Catholicism is the problem, not a secular Christmas tradition.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.