(RNS) The Rev. Giancarlo Sivieri said he had only the best intentions when he put the figure of Osama bin Laden behind the Holy Family in his Christmas creche, but he caused an uproar in the Tuscan city of Grosseto.

Sivieri added a newspaper photograph of bin Laden mounted on cardboard to the traditional figures of the three Wise Men, shepherds and farm animals gathered around Mary, Joseph and the Christ child in the miniature Nativity scene outside his church, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Protests poured in from Bishop Giacomo Babini, Mayor Alessandro Antichi, Provincial President Lio Scheggi and most of Sivieri's parishioners, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Few accepted the priest's "philosophical, social and religious" justification for putting the alleged Islamic terrorist, who is blamed by the U.S. government for the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on New York and Washington, in a creche.

"I'm bitter," Sivieri said, "because there was no understanding of the message, which meant to say, `Christ came to Earth to redeem every sinner, man or woman, and bin Laden is one of these. And the baby Jesus did not come for the poetry of Christmas but to take on himself the sins of the world.'"

When critics rejected his attempts to explain his reasoning in a homily and a letter to the local newspaper, Sivieri not only removed the figure of bin Laden but dismantled the creche, which normally would remain on display until after Epiphany celebrations on Sunday (Jan. 6).

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