An art gallery in Rome has covered up an exhibition of photographs showing same-sex couples kissing in churches, following a legal threat by the Vatican.

The photography series by Gonzalo Orquin, had been due to open at the Galleria L’Opera beginning on Wednesday evening. The photographer said the gallery had received a legal notice from the Vatican, and that he and the gallery had decided to cover up the photographs.

“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 admitted sending the threatening letter, and said the exhibition “could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful”. The Vicariate is an organisation which helps Pope Francis carry out his duties as Bishop of Rome.

Speaking to the Local, a spokesman for the Vicariate Cladio Tanturri said the photographs went against 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.”

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”.

Orquin said all but one of the sixteen photographs in the exhibition were taken in churches in the city, and that both gay and straight people volunteered to pose.

“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.”

Lawyers are currently working on the case, said Orquin, but for the time being, the photographs would remain covered up.

1375199_10151739827185000_2122248945_n

The photographer posted an image of the covered up photographs and a message saying he will fight to have them shown (Image: Facebook)

Flavio Romani, president of gay rights organization Arcigay, described the Vatican’s reaction as “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.”

Orquin, who is Spanish, but has lived in Rome for eight years, said from his experiences, he found Italy to be “a very homophobic country”.

“There aren’t other countries in Europe or the West that are backward like this” he continued.

The artist behind a painting of Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing women’s clothes which was seized by police earlier last month, fled Russia seeking political asylum.