Pope Francis has described a draft EU document which could have banned using the term Christmas as anachronistic.

The document - communication guidelines for European Union staff - was circulated by the office of EU Commissioner Helena Dalli and has since been withdrawn, with Dalli saying it was still a work in progress.

It asked European Commission workers to avoid assuming everyone is Christian, controversially suggesting the term 'Christmas' be avoided and 'Holidays' used instead. 

It also asked its staff to stop using Mrs when addressing women, to avoid addressing an audience as ladies and gentlemen, and to avoid using solely Christian names when bringing up examples of people who live in the European Union.

Francis told journalists on his flight back to Rome from Athens on Monday that the document was "watered-down secularism”, according to Vatican News.

“In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do so," he said. "Think of Napoleon: from there… Think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one… it is a fashion of a watered-down secularism, distilled water… But this is something that throughout hasn’t worked.”

The pope said the EU must remember the ideals of its founding fathers of unity and must be careful "not to take the path of ideological colonisation."

"This could end up dividing the countries and [causing] the European Union to fail," he said. "The European Union must respect each country as it is structured within, the variety of countries, and not want to make them uniform."

While he conceded that that was not the intention of the document, he said the idenity of each country should be preserved.

"The European Union: its sovereignty, the sovereignty of brothers in a unity that respects the individuality of each country," he said.

"And be careful not to be vehicles of ideological colonisation. That is why [the issue] of Christmas is an anachronism."

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