The controversial head of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, may have gone too far. In a speech last week to tens of thousands of pilgrims at the Jasna Gora monastery, Poland's holiest shrine, he warned Poles that joining the European Union could jeopardise their national identity and tempt them into immoral behaviour.
At one point, he compared the EU to a "paradise" containing dangerous fruits, and at another point he called it a "jungle of cut-throat competition and easy plunder". If Poles were not vigilant, they could easily find that EU membership turned them into "animals" obsessed with material things
Poland's left-wing coalition government regards admission into the EU and Nato as its two most important foreign-policy goals, and mainstream opposition political parties share these objectives. Opinion polls consistently show strong public support for EU membership, which the government would like to join as early as 2000.
It is not the first time that Cardinal Glemp, the Primate of the Polish Church since 1981, has made a blunt intervention into the political arena. However, by challenging a goal that Polish politicians and the general public view as vital to the nation's stability and prosperity, he may prompt fresh calls for the clergy to be kept once and for all out of politics.
"Entering the EU is a fine thing, but it involves more than just politics. The Church also perceives it as a moral issue, and warns against turning citizens into lay figures at the price of entering a club of rich proprietors," he told the Jasna Gora pilgrims.
"There are two ways for the poor to enter the group of the rich. The first way is for the poor to make an impression with their character, diligence and personality.
" The second way is to get rid of their character, their clothes and way of life, and change into compulsory full dress or jeans and imitate everything that makes a man rich."
"We are standing at the gate to paradise and we are begging: 'Take us, we will do anything to be like you.' But Poland has been part of civilised, Christian Europe for 1,000 years."
In language that suggested he even thought the EU was out to destroy Poland's independence, he said: "Today it is possible to dominate countries not only with weapons but with economic activities.
" I know cases where someone who wants to buy up an enterprise first ruins it and later buys it up for next to nothing."