A 25 foot statue installed on a town square in a French village honoring Pope John Paul II, the second longest leader of the Catholic Church in modern history, serving from 1978 to 2005, will have to lose its cross.
France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, confirmed Wednesday that the work representing the Polish pope overhung with a cross at Ploërmel, a small town in Morbihan, Brittany, located in north-western France, will have to be modified.
In December 2006, the city unveiled the statue, which was a gift by Russo-Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, but it has sparked controversy over the separation of church and state because the statue of the Polish pope is framed by an arch surmounted by a cross.
Tsereteli created a monumental sculpture of Peter the Great that is on display in Moscow.
“Since the cross is a religious sign or emblem within the meaning of Article 28 of the Law of 9 December 1905 and its installation by the municipality does not fall into any of the exceptions provided by this article, its presence in a public location is contrary to this law,” said a statement by the agency that ruled on the matter.
In 2010, an administrative court judged illegal a grant paid by the general council of Morbihan for this statue and ordered its refund.
The Conseil d’Etat ruled that the cross must be removed because it is a religious symbol and breaks France’s law of Separation of Church and State of 1905. The rest of the statue, including an arch over the figure of the Pope, can remain in place.
The town has six months to remove the cross, and must pay about $3500 to the National Federation of Free Thought (Fédération nationale de la libre-pensée), which has been fighting a legal battle to have the statue removed since 2015.
The National Federation of Free Thought and two residents of the town challenged the expenditures of public money in court after the implied refusal of the mayor to remove the monument.
A statement from the organization said, “The presence on the public domain of an imposing statue of Pope John Paul II surmounted by a huge cross is a disturbance of the public order instituted by the law in so far as it violates the fundamental principles of state secularism.”
Secularism, whereby a government is officially neutral in matters of religion, is widely considered an indispensable tool for protecting religious liberty and like France the United States is strongly committed to the principle. Authorities in Roselle Park were recently ordered to remove a religious symbol from property in front of the public library.
On April 30, 2015, the court ordered the mayor of Ploërmel to have the monument removed from its site within six months but that decision was annulled on December 15, 2015 by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Nantes, which cited an error of law.
The court partly ruled in the administrative court that the cross was contrary to the 1905 law, which prohibits “the raising or affixing of any religious sign or emblem on public monuments or in any public place.”
The arch and the statue will remain because it “cannot, by itself, be regarded as a religious sign or emblem.”
The mayor of Ploërmel, Patrick LeDiffon, did not rule out bringing the case before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
“The statue is part of the landscape of Ploërmel for twelve years, it does not disturb the inhabitants. On the contrary, it is an undeniable tourist asset for the municipality, ” explained LeDiffon, adding, “This structure is a work of art. It takes authorization from the artist to modify it.”
The Polish cleric, born Karol Józef Wojty?a, is credited with inspiring political change that not only ended Communist rule in his native country and eventually all of Europe, and he significantly improved Rome’s relations with Judaism, Islam, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Communion.
He was one of the most travelled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his pontificate.
Born in Poland, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the Dutch Pope Adrian VI, who served from 1522 to 1523.
Connect with NJTODAY.NET
Join NJTODAY.NET's free Email List to receive occasional updates delivered right to your email address!