An increase in juvenile crime could be linked to the decline in children going to church or Sunday School, an Anglican bishop has said.

The Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, Bishop of Lichfield, was speaking after burglars struck at the Church of St James The Great in Norton Canes, near Cannock, Staffordshire, for the eighth time since last summer.

Some of the attacks have coincided with school holidays, prompting speculation that schoolchildren are responsible.

The intruders escaped with a total of about £50 but caused an accumulated £8,000 worth of damage.

The bishop said they may not be aware of the distress they have caused parishioners or the cost of repairs.

He added: "The other very real issue is the lack of moral guidance we now give to children and young people as they are growing up.

"I don't believe it is a simple co-incidence that the rise in juvenile crime correlates to the decline in parents bringing their children to church or Sunday School.

"A very large proportion of parents are desperate for their children to be given better values for life than those provided by computer games, television and the junk food manufacturers; and the Church is in a good position to help them with this."

He added: "The church building stands for all the values we hold dear. It is a symbol of healthy relationships and mutual service.

"If our children grow up without knowing this, then we have disinherited them."

The rector of Norton Canes, Father Neil Hibbins, described the burglaries as "pointless" and "out of proportion" to the damage caused as there was nothing of value kept in the church.

In 2003, a survey of seven police forces by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, found thefts and burglaries from church property increased from 1,878 to 2,708 between 1999 and 2002.

Violent assaults on clergy also increased during the same period.