Page last updated at 23:51 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Priest 'ruins Christmas' for kids

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

A Father Christmas gives a gift to a boy in front of a shop window in downtown Rome on 23 December 2008.
Dozens of parents complained after the priest let out the Santa secret

A Catholic priest has been criticised by parents in a city in northern Italy for telling their children that Father Christmas does not really exist.

Father Dino Bottino, the parish priest of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Novara, let out the secret at a children's mass earlier this month.

A local paper published complaints from dozens of parents. "You've ruined my children's Christmas," said one mother.

But an unrepentant Fr Bottino called it his duty to set the record straight.

"I told the children that Father Christmas was an invention that had nothing to do with the Christian Christmas story," he said.

"And I would repeat it again, if I had the chance," he added.

But Father Dino could not have imagined the scorn that would be heaped upon him after he told children at mass that neither Father Christmas - nor the kindly witch called the Befana who provides presents on 6 January to Italian children - really exist.

The priest said he had never intended to hurt anyone, but it was his duty to distinguish the reality of Jesus from the story of Father Christmas which was a fable just like Cinderella or Snow White.

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