The Catholic Church in France has agreed to buy the statue of the late St. John Paul II after an administrative court had ordered the removal of a cross from the 25-foot monument.
The statue, which was donated by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli to the small northwestern town of Ploermel in 2006, depicts the late pope praying beneath an arch adorned with a cross.
In October 2017, the Conseil d'Etat, the top administrative court in France, ordered the removal of the cross from the statue, citing the country's 1905 law of separation of Church and state.
According to Catholic News Agency, the statue, which has stood in a public carpark for 12 years, was sold by the mayor of Ploermel, Patrick Le Diffon, to the Catholic Church for $24,000.
Once the sale of the monument is finalized, it will be moved a few meters at the Church's expense to the adjoining grounds of a private Catholic college, where it will still be visible to the public.
Before the statue even went up, it had been challenged in court by secular activists, who hailed the October ruling as a victory.
"It's what should have happened from the start," said Andre Le Beherec, head of the local Freedom of Thought association, which filed the lawsuit against town officials.
After the court ruling, tens of thousands of people had signed a petition opposing the removal of the cross. The decision also drew backlash on Twitter, with some users using the hashtag "#montretacroix," which means "show your cross."
Le Diffon had said at the time that the statue was a work of art and had opposed the dismantling of the cross. The French conservative party also denounced the court ruling as "madness" and "destructive to the country's history."
Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo had previously offered to relocate the statue of the Polish pope to his home country to "save it from censorship." She contended that religious censorship was undermining the values of Europe and and was a nuisance to Europeans.
"Our great Pole, a great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe," Szydlo said at the time, referring to St. John Paul II.
"The dictate of political correctness — the secular state — introduces a place for values that are alien to our culture, (and) which lead to terrorism to the daily life of Europeans," she added.
Paul Anselin, the former mayor who put up the statue, had expressed his support for the sale of the statue as a means to end the controversy.
"We have to move on from this situation," Anselin said while noting that he regretted that a gift had been sold. "Selling presents, it just isn't done," he added.