John Paul II in French statue controversy

A small French Atlantic town is divided over the erection of a towering bronze statue of the late John Paul II which is claimed by opponents to threaten the nation's separation of church and state.

The Age reports that the 8.75 metre high statue by controversial Russian-Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, was erected yesterday in front of a crowd of 100 people in Ploermel near the Atlantic Coast, on a central square named after the Pope following his death last year.

The small town made national news over the monument, championed by the mayor but opposed by a group that went to court saying it violates France's 1905 law on the separation of church and state.

According to the BBC, the inauguration ceremony had originally been planned for 9 December, the anniversary of the signing of the 100-year-old law that founded modern French secularism.

Mayor Paul Anselin of the conservative ruling party UMP called John Paul II "a giant of the 20th century who participated in the fall of the Iron Curtain".

The mayor's office insisted that no public funds were used for the statue, and that the artist presented it as a gift. But a group trying to block the monument says the city government approved 130,000 ($A220,000) for its construction and the inauguration ceremony.

Marylene Guillaume, spokeswoman for the group, said it sent e-mail messages to all 577 members of the lower house of parliament requesting support. It has also tried to fight the monument through courts, so far without success.

The monument shows the pope standing in prayer, beneath an arch topped by a huge cross.

Tsereteli, president of the Russian Academy of Art, has made enormous and often contentious monuments in many cities, including a 30 metre monument to victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that was also a donation by the artist.

Among the sculptor's better-known - and more contentious - works is a giant statue of Peter The Great that dominates the Moscow skyline. His statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, also stands in Moscow.

Pope's statue provokes storm of protest (The Age, 11/12/06)
Pope statue stirs French town row (BBC News, 12/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Pope John Paul II (Wikipedia)
Pope John Paul II (Vatican)

12 Dec 2006