The series of photos, by Gonzalo Orquín, was due to be displayed at the exhibition opening at the Galleria L’Opera on Wednesday evening.
“A letter arrived from the Vicariate of Rome, an organization that is part of the Vatican, which said the church is against the exhibition. I spoke to lawyers and for security reasons we decided not to show the photos,” Orquín told The Local.
The Vicariate, an organization that helps the Pope carry out his functions as Bishop of Rome, confirmed it had sent the letter threatening legal action and said the photographs “could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful”.
Speaking to The Local, Vicariate Spokesman Claudio Tanturri said the photographs are in breach the Italian constitution.
“Italian constitutional law safeguards an individual’s religious feeling and the function of places of worship.
“Therefore photos that are not suitable and do not conform to the spirituality of the place, [they] offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.”
All but one of the 16 photographs were taken in churches in Rome, with gay and straight volunteers posing for Orquín.
“We went to churches, took the photos at the altar and ran off…it’s a bit like a flash mob,” said Orquín, who is himself Catholic. “A number of times we left because there were a people praying. It wasn’t easy.”
Orquín said lawyers are currently working on the case and for the moment the photos will continue to be covered up.
Flavio Romani, president of gay rights organization Arcigay, said the Catholic Church’s reaction is “grotesque”.
“In the images in which the church have seen provocation, I see an exchange of love, a type of public worship that creates harmony not contrast.
“The indignation of the Catholic Church, therefore, is extremely grotesque,” he told The Local.
Orquín, who is Spanish and has lived in Rome for eight years, said he found Italy to be “a very homophobic county”.
“There aren’t other countries in Europe or the West that are backward like this” he said.