French court's decision forces a change of place for John Paul II statue

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Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square circa 1978. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

A statue of St. John Paul II will be removed from public land in a small French city, after a 2017 court order ruled its cross must be removed.

The statue, nearly 25 feet tall, portrays Pope Saint John Paul II praying beneath an arch adorned with a cross. Its Russian sculptor had given the statue to the town, and it was installed at a public car park in 2006.
Patrick Le Diffon, the mayor of Ploërmel, has sold the statue to the Catholic Church for about $24,000. The statue will be moved a few dozen yards down the street to a church-owned property neighboring a Catholic school, Agence France Presse reports. It will be visible there for residents and visitors to the small city in northwest France’s Brittany region.

In October 2017, France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, ordered a cross to be removed from the statue, citing France’s 1905 secularism law.
At the time of the ruling, Le Diffon called the statue a work of art and opposed its dismantling.
Paul Anselin, the town’s 87-year-old mayor and former paratrooper, had installed the statue but then supported the agreement to end the controversy.
“We have to move on from this situation,” said Anselin, who regretted that a gift had been sold.
“Selling presents, it just isn’t done,” he said.
The court decision had provoked a strong response from the late pontiff’s native Poland.
Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo offered to have the statue relocated to Poland to save the statue from what she said were “the dictates of political correctness” and “secularization of the state.”
“Our great Pole, a great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe,” she said, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph.
Since its arrival, the statue had been a source of controversy from some locals. The secularist National Federation of Free Thought campaigned for its removal even before it was set up.
Prime Minister Szydlo had charged that religious censorship was undermining the values of Europe and was a nuisance to Europeans. Secularization and the dictatorship of political correctness was “alien to our culture, which leads to terrorizing Europeans in their everyday life,” she said.
Tens of thousands of people signed online petitions against the decision. The ruling also drew a backlash on Twitter. Objectors to the court’s decision used the hashtag “#montretacroix,” which means “show your cross.”
France’s conservative parties decried the decision as “madness” and “destructive to the country’s history.”

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