November 17th, 2011
03:05 PM ET
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – The Vatican will attempt legal action against the United Colors of Benetton over an ad featuring a doctored picture of the pope kissing a male Muslim cleric, the Holy See announced Thursday, one day after the ad was unveiled and then pulled.
The Vatican said it had directed its lawyers to initiate action to prevent the circulation of the ad, even though Benetton announced Wednesday that it is pulling the ad in the face of criticism.
The ad featured a fake picture of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, imam of Al-Azhar mosque, a prominent Muslim house of worship in Cairo, Egypt.
"It is a serious lack of respect for the Pope, an affront to the feelings of the faithful and an evident demonstration of how, in the field of advertising, the most elemental rules of respect for others can be broken in order to attract attention by provocation,” Holy See spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement about the ad.
“The Secretariat of State is examining the steps that may be taken with the competent authorities in order to guarantee adequate protection for the figure of the Holy Father," Lombardi said, referring to the Vatican’s secretary of state.
A person who answered the phone for Benetton’s press line on Thursday said no one from the company would be available to comment on the Vatican announcement until Friday.
"We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms," Benetton said in a statement on Wednesday, explaining its decision to pull the ad.
"We are therefore sorry that the use of the image of the pope and the imam has so offended the sentiments of the faithful,” the statement by the fashion apparel company continued. “In corroboration of our intentions, we have decided, with immediate effect, to withdraw this image from every publication."
The ad was part of a campaign United Colors of Benetton unveiled Wednesday that features doctored photos of world leaders kissing each other and that the Italian-based company said aims to combat a “culture of hatred.”
The series features fake photos of U.S. President Barack Obama kissing Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kissing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, among other pairings.
The ads are appearing in print and online media around the world.
“The central theme is the kiss, the most universal symbol of love, between world political and religious leaders,” Benetton said in a Wednesday press release.
“These are symbolic images of reconciliation - with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation - to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, even when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.”
Benetton says the ad campaign accompanies the creation of a new organization called the UNHATE foundation.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.