A priest in northern Italy has caused an uproar by announcing that there would be no Christmas crib in the local cemetery this year so that Muslims and atheists would not be offended.

"A corner of the cemetery is reserved for Muslim graves," Father Sante Braggiè, from Cremona in Lombardy, said last week. "A crib could be seen as a lack of respect for the faithful of other religions, offend the sensibilities of Muslims, Indians and even atheists."

Cremona, a city of 72,000 people, has resettled thousands of immigrants in the past two years and has warned that its facilities are being swamped. Father Braggiè also gave practical reasons for abandoning the tradition, including a lack of council workers to set up the crib. He said he was also unsure about the appropriateness of a nativity scene in a place devoted to honouring the dead.

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