MILAN (AP) — A public school principal in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy has been accused of canceling Christmas after removing religious songs from the annual holiday pageant.
Everyone from Italy's premier to the Italian bishop's conference daily newspaper has chimed in on what has been cast as an affront to Italian tradition. Matteo Renzi called it "a useless provocation" while L'Avvenire called it "a mistaken choice resulting from an excess of laicism and ideology."
The controversy erupted in recent days after parents of children at the Garofani elementary school in Rozzano, south of Milan, complained that the traditional Christmas pageant had been recast as a winter festival and moved to January.
Principal Marco Parma told an Italian daily that he wanted to avoid religiously themed songs to avoid excluding non-Christian children.
On Monday, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Northern League, told parents and supporters outside the school that "cohabitation is nice, but Dec. 25 remains the Christmas holiday."
Parma denied canceling or postponing celebrations in a letter posted on the school's website over the weekend, and told Repubblica TV that Christmas would be celebrated in individual classrooms.
In the letter, Parma, who is in his second year at the school, offered his resignation due to the controversy. He said the only request he had denied was one by two mothers who wanted to teach religious songs to Christian students during the lunch hour "which I still consider inappropriate."
Mayor Barbara Agogliati said she was "stunned" by the principal's decision to do away with a longtime tradition, especially since she said Christmas pageants had never been controversial in the town where some 15 percent of the town's school-age population has a foreign passport.