Photos of Kisses Banned from Rome Gallery Due to Vatican Intervention

Two men kissing in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Two men kissing in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

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

“ ‘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.”

covered photos
Facebook photo of covered images

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



World Day of Peace Message and Meeting with Ugandan Parliamentary Leader Cause Controversies for Pope Benedict

LGBT protesters near St. Peter's Square demonstrate against the Pope's World Day of Peace message.
LGBT protesters near St. Peter’s Square demonstrate against the Pope’s World Day of Peace message.

The Vatican became a focal point of LGBT news this past weekend, with Pope Benedict XVI at the center of two controversies.

On Friday, the pope released the text of his January 1, 2013 World Day of Prayer for Peace message.  Though much of the message dealt with other issues, one paragraph of it specifically focused on the question of marriage.  He states:

“There is also a need to acknowledge and promote the natural structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the face of attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different types of union; such attempts actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society.
“These principles are not truths of faith, nor are they simply a corollary of the right to religious freedom. They are inscribed in human nature itself, accessible to reason and thus common to all humanity. The Church’s efforts to promote them are not therefore confessional in character, but addressed to all people, whatever their religious affiliation. Efforts of this kind are all the more necessary the more these principles are denied or misunderstood, since this constitutes an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.”
It is not unusual for the pope to use this message to promote heterosexual families, and there is nothing in this statement that differs significantly from things which he has previously stated.
Some Italian LGBT rights spokespeople expressed dismay at the pope’s comments.  According to

“Flavio Romani, the head of the Arcigay association, said that the Pope’s message ‘arms the homophobes of all countries with an invitation to take part in a crusade against marriage between people of the same sex.’

“Nichi Vendola, the gay governor of Puglia and the leader of the left-wing SEL party, was equally dismayed.

“ ‘I’d like to ask the Catholic Church why it is trying to run away from dialogue, from listening, from debate,’ he said.”

Additionally, LGBT protesters staged a demonstration near St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.  A separate story notes:

“About fifteen activists attended the protest, and carried with them coloured paper hearts emblazoned with messages such as “’ove has no barriers,’ ‘gay marriage,’ ‘talk about love,’ ‘marry peace,’ and ‘homophobia=death,’ reported AFP.

“The protesters were not allowed to access the square, which was full of worshippers who turned out to hear Pope Benedict XVI recite the Angelus on the third Sunday of Advent.”

An Associated Press story noted that the protesters issued a statement which said, in part:

“Gay unions don’t harm peace. Weapons do.”

Pope Benedict meets Rebecca Kadaga.
Pope Benedict meets Rebecca Kadaga.

The second, unrelated controversy has to do with the pope appearing in a photograph with Ugandan Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who has been an outspoken supporter of her nation’s proposed “Kill the Gays” bill, which proposes severe sentences, including the death penalty, for lesbian and gay people.”

Kadaga attended a Mass with the pope while she was in Rome to attend a human rights conference.  Though some news reports claimed that the pope blessed Kadaga, it is unclear if this was a particular, individual blessing for her or if the blessing was the general blessing administered to the thousands at the Mass.

The pope was photographed with Kadaga, which meant he did briefly meet with her.  Too bad he did not use that opportunity to speak out against Uganda’s proposed bill which the Vatican has previously opposed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry