Had the Vatican not intervened in getting a photo exhibition removed from a Rome gallery, few outside the Eternal City would probably have heard of it. But opposition to the exhibit, which features 16 pictures of same-gender couples kissing in churches, has now catapulted the exhibit to the world of international headlines and internet sensations.
Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin’s exhibit, which was to open on September 25th in Rome’s Galleria L’Opera, was cancelled when the Vatican’s Vicariate of Rome (the office which oversees the Diocese of Rome) threatened legal action. You can view a slideshow of the photos here, thanks to Huffington Post UK. According to TheLocal.it:
“ ‘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.’ “
Italian law, it seems, has a different concept of free expression than United States law:
“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 offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.’ ”
According to New York’s Daily News, the artist’s position on the exhibit was consonant with religious sentiment:
“ ‘I am a Catholic. I believe in God deeply,’ Orquin told The News in an email. ‘I think if you look closely at my pictures no one can find blasphemy or sacrilege. A kiss is a gesture of love, of tenderness between human beings.’ ”
Flavio Romani, president of Arcigay,Italy’s leading gay rights organization, agreed with the artist and said that the Vatican’s reaction is a different interpretation than the one he has of the exhibit. In The Local he stated:
“In the images in which the church has seen provocation, I see an exchange of love, a type of public worship that creates harmony not contrast.”
In response to the cancellation, the artist has posted a photo on Facebook of the 16 photos covered up, according to Huffington Post UK. He is hopeful that the exhibit will be displayed elsewhere. It seems that the notoriety gained by the Vatican’s intervention guarantees that another, perhaps more prominent, venue will be found for the photos.
If the Vatican wants to start living up to the ideals expressed by Pope Francis, interventions such as this one will have to stop. Such an action doesn’t even serve their own misguided purposes well, as it only brings further exposure and publicity to the exhibit. Worse yet, it sets up a dichotomy that buildings are more important than people.
The images themselves are not disrespectful. And like all art, the statement they make probably depends more upon the viewer of them, not the creator of them. Such images may offend some people, but more likely they will challenge many others, and cause even more people to think about the connections between love and religion. Art should always get people thinking and discussing.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry