French court rules that cross on Pope John Paul II statue must be removed

A statue of Pope John Paul II in the town of Ploërmel appears in this image. | Wikimedia Commons/chisloup

A top administrative court in France has ruled that a cross from a memorial of the late Pope John Paul II in Brittany must be removed because it violates a 1905 law imposing the strict separation of Church and State.

The statue, which depicts the Polish pontiff in prayer beneath an arch adorned with a large cross, was gifted to the mayor of Ploërmel in 2006 by its creator, the Georgian-Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli.

The Conseil d'Etat ruled on Wednesday that the cross must be removed because it violated a law that forbids religious monuments or symbols in any public place that is not a museum, cemetery or place of worship.

According to Life Site News, the decision diluted a previous ruling that the entire statue violated the law and had to be removed.

The court gave the town of Ploërmel six months to remove the cross from the town square. The town was also ordered to pay €3,000 (approx. US$3,500) to the National Federation of Free Thought, which brought the lawsuit against the memorial.

The Catholic Church said that the decision was "balanced," while France's secularism watchdog, ODL, contended that the ruling simply upheld the 1905 law.

Beata Szydło, the prime minister of Poland, where the late pontiff is revered, objected to the ruling and proposed moving the statue to her country to "save it from censorship." She suggested that the order to remove the cross from the memorial was a kind of anti-European totalitarianism.

"John Paul II said that history teaches that democracy without freedom transforms into open or disguised totalitarianism," she said.

"Our great Pole, our great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe. 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.

The current Mayor of Ploërmel, Patrick Le Diffon, expressed disappointment with the ruling, noting that the statue had been a part of the town for 12 years.

"The statue is part of the landscape of Ploërmel for 12 years, and it does not disturb the inhabitants," the mayor said.

He further stated that the monument is an "undeniable tourist asset for the municipality," adding that it is a "work of art and it requires the authorization from the artist to modify it."

Le Diffon noted that the case could be brought before the European Court of Human Rights, and he has expressed plans to sell the public land where the memorial sits to a private investor to circumvent the problem of a cross appearing on public land.