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Polish PM offers to save John Paul II statue after French court orders removal of cross

The bronze statue of Pope John Paul II in Ploërmel, France (Getty Images)

Poland’s prime minister has stepped into a row over a statue of Pope St John Paul II in Ploërmel, a town in Brittany.

France’s top administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, has ruled that a large cross over the nearly-25-foot high statue of John Paul in prayer must be removed, because it contravenes a 1905 law banning any “religious sign or emblem” in a public space, upholding France’s strict separation of Church and State.

Beata Szydło, prime minister of Poland, has offered to have the statue moved to Poland, to rescue it from “the dictates of political correctness”. She said that religious censorship is undermining the values of Europe.

“Our great Pole, a great European, is a symbol of a Christian, united Europe,” she said, adding that secularisation and the dictatorship of political correctness are “alien to our culture, which leads to terrorising Europeans in their everyday life”.

The argument has been raging ever since the statue by Russian artist Zourab Tsereteli was erected in 2006, with strong feelings voiced on both sides. The secularist National Federation of Free Thought campaigned to have it removed, and the court has now agreed that the cross must go, stating that its “presence in a public location is contrary to the law”.

But while the Church has called the court’s decision “balanced”, Conservative and Far Right politicians have reacted with vehemence. Valérie Boyer, an MP for the right-wing Republicans party formerly led by Nicolas Sarkozy, asked: “When will this madness consisting of trying to erase our roots end?” Louis Aliot, vice president of the Front National, said the “iniquitous” decision could precipitate “the destruction of our Judeo-Christian society”.

The mayor of Ploërmel, Patrick Le Diffon, was opposed to removing the large cross from the arch over the statue, which he called a work of art. But rather than “rekindle a war of religion” he came up with a solution to sidestep the problem by selling the public land to a private investor.