The Vatican newspaper has said it is “historically senseless hypocrisy” to drop the dating abbreviations BC and AD on the grounds that they might offend non-Christians.
In a front-page commentary L’Osservatore Romano said the change reflected a wider effort to “cancel every trace of Christianity from Western culture”.
The BBC has clarified, however, that it has not dropped the use of BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, or Year of the Lord) in favour of BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era).
Even so, the religion page of its website says it prefers BCE and CE, explaining that “in line with modern practice, bbc.co.uk/religion uses BCE/CE as a religiously neutral alternative to BC/AD. As the BBC is committed to impartiality it is appropriate that we use terms that do not offend or alienate non-Christians.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC uses BC and AD like most people as standard terminology. It is also possible for individuals to use different terminology if they wish to, particularly as it is now commonly used in historical research.”
The comments on the BBC religion page have attracted widespread criticism, including from London mayor Boris Johnson. Critics argue that the BCE/CE dating abbreviations use the birth of Christ as a reference point but without acknowledging the connection.
“To deny the historically revolutionary importance of the coming of Christ on earth, which is also accepted by those who do not recognise him as the son of God, is an act of enormous foolishness,” the Vatican newspaper said.
“Why not recognise that from that moment, the world changed?” it said. For one thing, it said, the modern concept of human rights owes much to the new Christian vision of the equality of human beings as children of God.
The newspaper said it was “anti-historical” to deny the cultural debt owed by civilisation to Christianity.