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Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Polish bishops warn over EU polls
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Poland's Roman Catholic bishops have urged their fellow citizens not to vote for candidates whose views are opposed to traditional Catholic teaching on issues like abortion and same-sex relationships in European parliamentary elections in June.

The bishops are, in the main, a pretty conservative body.

Archbishop Jozef Michalik
The bishops have criticised Europe's 'un-Christian' values
They know that the Pope has strongly endorsed EU enlargement, on 1 May.

But they also worry that the EU will erode traditional Catholic practices in a country like Poland, where the Church continues to exercise a strong influence, especially in small towns and villages and among the section of the urban working class.

These are also the social groups that feel most threatened by the economic implications of EU membership.

Poland's bishops also have an ambiguous attitude towards democracy.

On the one hand they see it as a natural expression of the dignity and spiritual integrity on the individual.

On the other, they appear to believe that certain principles are beyond discussion.

Same-sex unions

In their appeal, the bishops warn against voting for candidates who want to liberalise Poland's strict abortion law, to introduce sex education in schools, and to give legal status to same-sex partnerships.

They also urge people not to be tempted by politicians who offer easy solutions to difficult problems.

They say they want as many Catholic Christians as possible to sit in the European Parliament - to oppose what they describe as "strong tendencies to eliminate Christian values from European life".

In fact, the document bears the hallmarks of careful drafting - and may not fully reflect the degree of worry felt by some bishops.

For instance, the recently elected head of the Polish Bishops' Conference, Jozef Michalik - a noted conservative - has said he cannot see a place for himself in a European Union which fails to ban abortion or to "acknowledge God" - a reference to the absence of a reference to God in the preamble to the EU draft constitution.

Secular politics

Although most Poles claim to be Catholics, they do not necessarily follow the Church's advice when it comes to political choices.

Throughout the 1990s, parties and politicians openly endorsed by the Church generally did badly in elections.

With Poland's existing government of ex-communists in disarray and early elections looming, the two parties which are doing best in opinion polls are Self Defence - a populist, anti-EU movement led by a former Communist collective farm manager; and the Civic Platform - a centre-right liberal party, which makes no reference to religion in its publicity.

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