ROME – Weeks after its release on HBO, Paolo Sorrentino’s “The New Pope” series is already sparking blowback for the opening scene, during which a group of young nuns dance provocatively in sexy white nightgowns beneath a giant crucifix in an old monastery in Venice.

Images of the nuns gyrating to flashing strobe lights and club music beneath the fluorescent crucifix have gone viral, but they hit a sour note with Patriarch Francesco Moraglia of Venice.

In a Jan. 13 statement issued by Father Gianmatteo Caputo, who is in charge of cultural heritage for the Venice patriarchate, the priest called the scene “offensive” and “lacking a narrative context that justifies the reason and the content.”

Released Jan. 10 on Italian station Sky Atlantic, the series is a follow-up to 2016’s “The Young Pope,” which starred Jude Law as Pius XIII. In the new series, John Malkovich plays the role of a titular pope that takes office as John Paul III after Law’s character enters a coma following a heart attack.

Caputo acknowledged that the series is “fantasy” and that Sorrentino, known for his theatrical visuals, orchestrated the scene as he did “to provoke controversial, at times irreverent and provocative, reactions.”

However, rather than employing a respectful creativity for the opening scene, “what is offered to the viewers is only a shot similar to a music video made in a fundamental place of history and monastic tradition in Venice,” he said, adding that the monastery was “transformed into a sort of stage for a dance with winking and allusive content, placed under the Christian symbol par excellence, the cross.”

“We are faced with an episode which offends and profanes the reference to the symbol of the cross and which is inappropriate because it is based on the free will to provoke and cause reaction,” Caputo said, adding that in his evaluation, it’s not worth it to bother with censorship.

Instead, he urged viewers to ignore the scene so as not to cause a reaction, which is the directors’ aim.

“It would have been advisable,” Caputo said, “not to allow the use of that space of high historical and symbolic value for filming.”

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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