WARSAW, Poland – WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish officials quietly moved on Thursday a makeshift memorial cross honoring the late President Lech Kaczynski to the presidential palace chapel, in an attempt to end a lengthy dispute that divided the nation.
There was no disturbance when palace officials took down the simple wooden cross from the square outside the palace, though earlier attempts to remove it had triggered a backlash that sparked an acrimonious debate between those who wanted it to stay and others who wanted it removed.
Jacek Michalowski, head of the presidential office, said that keeping the cross in the public sphere any longer would "hurt the authority of the state and of the church and would also hurt the religious feelings of many Poles."
The cross was set up by Boy and Girl Scouts shortly after Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and 95 other top officials were killed in a plane crash in April. It was supported by the opposition Law and Justice party, led by the late president's twin brother, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Attempts to remove it in August pitted supporters against those who wanted it removed, revealing a rift between the nation's more conservative, devoutly Roman Catholic citizens and an increasingly self-confident predominantly youthful branch of society that insists on an enforcement of the separation of church and state.
The cross was placed near the altar in the palace chapel, and it will be moved to a nearby church, or, possibly taken to the site of the presidential plane crash in Smolensk, Russia.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in Brussels that taking the cross to the chapel was a "good decision" and a "step in the right direction" because it has become a "pretext for a conflict."
A few dozen people holding small crosses were praying and singing religious songs in the street near to the former site of the cross. They vow to continue until a monument to the victims of the April 10 presidential plane crash is put up outside of the palace.
A church official in Warsaw, the Rev. Grzegorz Kalwarczyk, said that the presidential chapel was a suitable place for the cross. Church officials have appealed for the religious symbol to be taken to an appropriate place.