Crucifixes displayed publicly in Italy, including in classrooms, are a sign of Christianity's key contribution to European culture and civilization, said Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Christianity is a "founding element" of Western civilization and "even if someone does not want to recognize it, it is an objective fact that the Christian presence is absolutely relevant, decisive," the cardinal told reporters March 18.
Ravasi spoke just a few hours before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of Italy in a case where a mother claimed crucifixes in Italian public-school classrooms violated her children's freedom of conscience.
A lower chamber of the European court had ruled in 2009 that the classroom crucifixes violated the religious freedom clauses of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the Vatican welcomed the Grand Chamber ruling, which recognizes that "human rights must not be placed in opposition to the religious foundations of European civilization."