A pay telephone line for French Catholics to confess their sins has drawn criticism from bishops.

‘For advice on confessing, press one. To confess, press two. To listen to some confessions, press three,’ says a soothing male voice, welcoming the caller to ‘Le Fil du Seigneur’, or ‘The Line of the Lord’ service.

‘In case of serious or mortal sins, that is, sins that have cut you off from Christ our Lord, it is indispensable to confide in a priest,’ warns the €0.34-a-minute service.

The Conference of French Bishops, which groups the country's Catholic leaders, warned in a statement that the line had ‘no approval from the Catholic Church in France.’

The site was set up this month at the beginning of the Christian fasting period of Lent by a group of Catholics working for AABAS, a small Paris company that provides telephone messaging services.

It does not offer absolution for sins, which only a priest can provide, said the creator, Camille, who asked for her second name not be cited because she had received threats about the service.

‘The idea is to confess sins which are not capital sins, but minor sins, directly to God,’ she said, adding that the line received about 300 calls in its first week.

Callers do not talk to a person but are offered an ‘atmosphere of piety and reflection,’ where they can listen to prayers, music and other people's confessions and can opt to record their own.

The bishops said telephone services had a role to play in lending an ear to the aged, isolated or those with disabilities, but ‘it is unacceptable to allow confusion over the notion of confession,’ they added.

‘For the Catholic faithful, confession has a sacramental meaning and requires the real presence of a priest.’

Camille said part of the money received for the calls goes to charity. The service costs €0.34 a minute plus a connection charge for mobile phones, though a cheaper non-charity line costs €0.12.

The line says on its website that it aims to encourage youngsters to confess at a time when church attendance is ‘in free-fall.’