IT is not for the ombudswoman to decide whether children can go to the church or not, Archbishop Chrysostomos said on Friday, following the publication of a report on a Nicosia kindergarten that took children to a church to kiss the relics of a saint.
In the report, which was prepared following complaints from parents, ombudswoman Eliza Savvidou urged the education ministry to take action to avoid similar incidents.
According to the report, the public kindergarten took children to a church to worship the relics of a saint during teaching time. The incident occurred in the previous school year.
“Schools are a place where views and cultures meet and therefore should remain neutral and impartial,” Savvidou said. She said in the report that the school’s action to take children to a religious event during teaching time, and under the supervision of teachers was a violation of the religious impartiality which civil institutions ought to observe.
State institutions including schools should operate as such and not as faithful adherents to religious traditions and practices, she said.
The report was not received well by the archbishop, however.
The ombudswoman, he said, should not cross the line. “It is not her business whether children should go to church or not. The education ministry has its programme and it will not ask the ombudswoman if it should apply it or not,” Archbishop Chrysostomos told state broadcaster CyBC.
“Everybody should know their place,” he said.
He added that Cypriots “who are a religious people”, have been going to church and kissing icons and relics of saints for centuries.
The school may simply have organised a church visit, he said, but he does not believe that the children were taken to kiss the relics. Parents, he said, if they wish, may tell their children not to go to church.
“We never forced anyone to kiss icons in any church. Children who go to church have every right to decide whether they want to kiss icons,” the archbishop said.
“The ombudswoman needs to understand that the Constitution stipulates that education belongs to the Greek Christian community of Cyprus, and not to state ministries”.
He added that for centuries it was the Church that was in charge of education in Cyprus and “kept our children Greek and Christian”.
“If the school has a church visit in its schedule, I do not believe that parents have the right to interfere with the affairs of the education ministry. They need to understand that,” he said.
But neither should children do what they want, he said. “Even if it does not want to go to the church, if it is a school decision then all children should go,” he said.
He added that this does not violate any freedoms.