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Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 17:50 UK

Greek monastery could become jail

Interior of a Greek Orthodox church
The Church wants its convicted bishop to serve his penance in a holy place

The Greek Orthodox Church says it wants to convert a 17th Century monastery into a prison for convicted clerics.

The Holy Synod has applied for permission to turn the Hrysopighi monastery in the southern Peloponnese peninsula into a correctional facility.

It hopes the recently convicted Bishop of Attica, Panteleimon, will be able to serve out his six-year sentence for embezzlement in the monastery.

The plan could later be extended to other errant priests, officials said.

Panteleimon, who is in his 70s, was convicted a month ago of embezzling around 200,000 euros ($317,000; 158,000) from a monastery under his jurisdiction.

Greek news reports say he is currently having a tough time in the country's top security Korydallos prison, suffering from taunts by fellow prisoners.

But the proposal to move him to what the Synod calls more "appropriate surroundings" has aroused considerable opposition from people who believe that convicted priests should endure the same conditions as other law-breakers, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

Panteleimon is the most high-profile cleric in jail, but another influential priest is facing trial for allegedly bribing judges, while the authorities have accused members of a rebel monastery on Mount Athos - Greece's semi-autonomous religious enclave - of embezzling Church property.

They deny the allegations against them.


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