ROME — A new, modernist sculpture of Pope John Paul II is turning into a monumental bust.
The Vatican on Friday slammed the giant artwork outside Rome's Termini Train Station, saying it doesn't even resemble the late pontiff.
Some Romans and tourists say the bronze statue looks more like Italy's wartime dictator Benito Mussolini than the widely beloved pope.
"How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist?" said 71-year-old Antonio Lamonica.
As he pondered the statue in the bustling square, his wife muttered: "It's ugly. Really ugly. Very ugly."
The artist, Oliviero Rainaldi, depicted the pontiff as if he is opening his cloak to embrace the faithful. But the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said the effect of the nearly 16-foot statue bears "only a distant resemblance to the pope."
Rainaldi, in comments reported by the newspaper La Repubblica, said he was sorry his work had been misunderstood. "I wasn't thinking about resemblance, but rather a work that was able to synthesize, in the posture of the head and body and in the draping of the cloak, the way the pope went out into the world," Rainaldi said.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, asked if the city might take down the statue, said public opinion would be considered.
"There's an ancient saying: 'Vox populi, vox dei,' " Alemanno said, using the Latin for "Voice of the people, voice of God."
"And from this point of view we cannot help but take into consideration the opinion of the public," he added.
The statue, paid for by the Silvana Paolini Angelucci Foundation at no cost to the city of Rome, was erected a few days ago to mark what would have been John Paul's 91st birthday on May 18.