April 27, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Catholic rights defense group in France was ordered last week to pay a total of 8,000 euro (over $11,600 U.S.) in damages and legal costs to the organizers of a contemporary art exhibition in Avignon (southern France). The group had asked a local court to order the removal of images of the anti-Christian “art” piece, “Piss Christ,” from the exhibition’s website and from public display on posters in town.

The controversial photograph of a crucifix immersed in a jar of the artist’s urine made international news recently after it was vandalized on Palm Sunday, reportedly by four young men.

The Alliance against racism and for the respect of French and Christian identity (AGRIF) is an officially recognized “anti-racist” organization that has gained the legal right to represent Christian interests in the French courts. It decided to tackle the “Lambert Collection” in Avignon after thousands of Catholics voiced their outrage at the provocative exhibition of “Piss Christ” by New York contemporary artist Andres Serrano, during Lent and Holy Week.

Hundreds of demonstrators joined a march and public prayers organized by the Christian lobby group Civitas earlier this month in Avignon. Civitas had obtained over 80,000 signatures for its internet petition against the “work of art.”

However, the judges of the Avignon civil tribunal said the AGRIF lawsuit constituted a “malicious prosecution,” and awarded damages to the Association Collection Lambert. The judges backed off from adding a “civil fine”: the AGRIF had “erroneously” judged the merits of “Piss Christ,” they said, but this error did not constitute a “fault.”

The bishop of Avignon, Mgr Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, had previously asked for the “odious” work to be removed. “If a person spits or pisses on me, he is scorning me. If a person pisses on the Crucifix, he’s scorning it. May the artist do anything he likes? Is art compatible with man’s most base instincts? I don’t believe that,” he said.

The French Primate, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, also asked for the removal of “Piss Christ” in a statement sent to the news agency AFP, calling the work “an offense which injures us deeply, specially in this Holy Week, because it affects the One who ‘loved us to the end.’”

In a bizarre twist, however, the legal counsel of the Collection Lambert was able to produce a book written in 2001 by former bishop of Poitiers, Albert Rouet, and bearing a preface by another French bishop, Gilbert Louis, titled “The Church and avant-garde Art.” The book contained many pictures of pornographic and inflammatory pieces, and commented favorably on “Piss Christ.”

Bernad Antony, president of the AGRIF, has indicated that the Alliance will appeal the Avignon decision. “More than ever, the AGRIF will continue fighting for the defense of the Faith of Christians and for the respect of human dignity.”