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French Catholics lash out at cross removal

A statue of the late Pope John Paul II is seen under a cross in Ploermel January 25, 2014. Picture taken January 25, 2014. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French Catholic authorities expressed anger Tuesday at the court-ordered removal of a cross from a statue of the late pope Jean-Paul II, which prompted outrage from his native Poland.

France's highest administrative court ruled last week that the cross, in the northwestern town of Ploermel, must be taken down due to strict secularism laws separating church and state.

The local Catholic diocese in Vannes deplored the move Tuesday, saying it "risks exacerbating the tendency to make Christian symbols ever less visible".

The court move raised the hackles of French rightwingers and the far-right, while the conservative government in Warsaw suggested moving the statue to Poland.

"The Polish government will try to save this monument to our compatriot from censorship and we will propose moving it to Poland," Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said Saturday.

The statue, by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli, was erected in a square in Ploermel under an arch topped by a cross following a 2006 decision by local authorities.

The National Federation for Free Thought, a non-profit organisation, took the issue to court alongside two local residents.

The court ruled that the cross breached France's 1905 secularism law, which forbids religious symbols from being displayed on public monuments.