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.

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-tall statue bears “only a distant resemblance to the pope.”

Artistic intent aside, “we find ourselves in the piazza before a violent gash, like a bomb, that ends up assimilating a cloak that almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish,” critic Sandro Barbagallo wrote in Friday’s L’Osservatore.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, asked by APTN in an exclusive interview 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 said. “If public opinion consolidates around a negative opinion, we’ll have to take that into consideration.”

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 was quoted as saying.

The statue, paid for by a 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.

Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul, the last formal step before sainthood, on May 1 at a ceremony that drew about 1.5 million admirers to Rome.

The website of the Silvana Paolini Angelucci Foundation, which is dedicated to humanitarian efforts and which donated the statue, makes no mention of the controversy. Calls to the foundation weren’t returned Friday.

The city noted that Vatican culture officials had seen a sketch of the work and approved it.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, confirmed that the sketch “received a positive opinion by the culture commission” of the Holy See. He couldn’t say what happened between the sketch stage and the final result.