A diplomatic spat has erupted between France and Poland over a top court order to remove a cross from a statue of the late Pope Jean Paul II in a Brittany town because it breached rules on secularism, The Telegraph reports.
Poland has pledged to save the work from the “dictates of political correctness” by having it shipped to the late pontiff’s native country.
Gifted in 2006 to the mayor of Ploërmel, western France, the 7.5 metre-high statue depicts Jean Paul II in prayer, standing beneath an arch adorned with a large cross.
However, after a decade-long battle, the Conseil d’Etat, France’s top administrative court, has ruled that the cross must be removed from the public space as it violates a 1905 law imposing the strict separation of Church and State.
The Council of State concluded that while the Pope and the arch can remain, the cross must be removed and it has given the town six months to do so.
Upon learning of its fate, Beata Szydło, prime minister of Poland where Jean Paul II is revered, offered to give the statue a new home to “save it from censorship”.
“Our great Pole, a great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe,” she said.
“The dictates of political correctness” and “secularisation of the state” were, she warned, promoting “values which are alien to our culture, which leads to terrorising Europeans in their everyday life”.
The ruling also sparked a backlash on Twitter of those outraged by the French ruling under the hashtag #montretacroix (show your cross). One commentator even likened the Council of State to Isil.
The statue by Russian artist Zourab Tsereteli had been controversial from the outset, with a group of locals and the secularist National Federation of Free Thought campaigning to have it removed.
Conservative and far-Right officials in France expressed outrage, with Valérie Boyer, MP for the Right-wing Republicans party exclaiming: “When will this madness consisting of trying to erase our roots end?”
Louis Aliot, vice president of the Front National, claimed the “iniquitous” decision could precipitate “the destruction of our Judeo-Christian society”.
The Catholic Church, however, called the ruling “balanced” while France’s secularism watchdog, ODL, said it simply upheld the 1905 law. Claims that it could lead to crosses being dismantled from churches or graveyards were “totally unfounded” it said, as these were excluded from the law.
Ploërmel’s embatteld mayor, Patrick Le Diffon, said: “I have no desire to rekindle a war of religion.”
He has come up with a compromise. Considering that hacking off the cross could “cause unrest”, he intends to sell the public land it is on to a private investor thus circumventing the problem.