Plan for school confession

Teenagers on Cyprus may soon be able to repent their sins between lessons, after education officials yesterday said they were "seriously considering" a proposal to place confessionals in schools.

Communing with God on school grounds is the best way to put youthful sinners back on the straight and narrow, claimed the popular bishop of Limassol, Athanassios, who made the suggestion.

The sanctuary of a confessional, he said, would provide "instant relief" for anyone caught smoking or missing a class.

An official at the island's education ministry, which has close ties with the Orthodox Church, said: "This is a novel idea and one that we are seriously considering."

School teachers in the socially conservative former British colony have complained bitterly of bad behaviour among teenagers, both in and out of the classroom.

Their wayward ways have been linked, increasingly, to the influence of "anything goes" UK-driven tourism in resorts such as Ayia Napa.

"It is a sad fact that behaviour in schools has worsened dramatically over the past decade," said one Nicosia educator preferring not to be named. "Often kids are more interested in their footwear, smoking and gelling their hair than attending class."

Bishop Athanassios believes that the beauty of his proposal lies in its "facility". This way, teenagers would not even have to bother going to the nearest church.

The Orthodox Church is a powerful and wealthy presence in Cyprus.

Several schools are graced with small chapels. By law, school curriculums include compulsory religious classes with a heavy emphasis on Orthodox Christian doctrines.

Yesterday, teachers' unions rejected the idea on the grounds that schools already provide spiritual guidance.

"Children are free to go to church if they wish but trying to force somebody into doing something can backfire," the head of one union said.

But the bishop is hopeful. His predecessor also came up with a novel plan - introducing late morning services on Sundays for all-night revellers - and it worked, he says.