Vatican pledges legal action against Benetton over doctored pope-kissing-imam ad
Benetton’s pope-imam ‘kiss” ad in Rome on Thursday.
November 17th, 2011
03:05 PM ET

Vatican pledges legal action against Benetton over doctored pope-kissing-imam ad

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.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Islam

soundoff (402 Responses)
  1. marsmotel

    The Pope is a hat choice away from being in the KKK, that Nazi!

    November 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  2. Mel

    Above story is a link "12 companies that could go bankrupt very soon" – make that 13!

    November 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Mommyof3

    This company saying this ad campaign is to be seen as "love" and that a kiss is the universal symbol for love is a joke. They turned a great idea into something dirty. They could have had all these leaders holding hands in a circle, or two leaders shaking hands. Instead, it looks more like a gay ad 'mocking' religion. Shame on this company and shame on anyone who supports this company.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Monte


      November 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • sjenner

      Shun it all you wish. That's your right. But the idea that Rome would sue is outlandish to me. First, the Pope, at his own insistence, is a public figure–one of the most public. Second, people have a right to their freedom of expression, speech and conscience. If the Pope finds that offensive, that the price of being public. Jesus was nailed to a cross for his public ministry. That gives a meaningful point of reference. I think the Pope should employ a tad bit of common sense and reason, and dial back the bruised ego and pride. He should also think about the child abuse and other gross violations of public trust that have occurred on his watch, both as Supreme Pontiff and previously as Cardinal Ratzinger. That too provides a meaningful metric by which to judge this so-called 'outrage.'

      November 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Mel

      Yes and did you notice when the Pope was having an Inter – Faith Peace conference between the Worlds Religious leaders a few weeks ago, CNN didn't cover that story. Interesting that! Curious.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  4. palintwit

    Plenty is being said here about the pope bending little boys over but what about the teabaggers who bend their sisters and cousins over?

    November 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • marsmotel

      What??? You are an idiot. Where do you get teabaggers in this article. CNN Politics is a couple of clicks away. Stupid Dumbocrat!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • palintwit

      marsmotel... CNN politics? No thanks. I'll just curl up in my Barcalounger and watch nascar. Did you know that Dale Earnhardt was one of America's greatest athletes?

      November 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • marsmotel

      You might be the dumbest person I have ever spoken to! You are not funny but just uneducated. Do you replace your lack of intelligence with yoou stupid humor?

      November 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • palintwit

      marsmotel... my lack of intelligence is why I vote republican.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  5. GSA

    Hate on Benetton but they did what they wanted to with that ad, get more attention. The lawsuit is garbage considering the trash that comes out of the Popes mouth and the hate he spreads with his words on a daily basis, can he really say he is disrespected when he hasn't answered to all the ppl he has disrespected?
    Benetton should run a contest to ad quotes to the picture and whoever wins gets some free stuff, I think there products are trash but that's my opinion.
    If that kiss was real the Pope would be thinking "I wonder if the Imam has any grandkids........".

    November 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  6. William Demuth


    He is a PUBLIC figure. By that standard, you couldn't put Hitlers picture or a cartoon about him in your book without the consent of his family.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Neeneko

      Yeah, public figure.. but public figures that have an army of voters behind them that believe they speak for God on earth tend to have a bit more ability to silence such things that normal...

      November 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Nonimus

      You may have a point there. I was thinking that perhaps the commercial gain aspect made "fair use", such as parodies, entertainment, and commentary, an invalid argument, but perhaps not.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  7. Disappointed

    I don't understand the need for these pictures. These are not funny and they disrespect people, how can a company advertise like this? These should be sued and the person who is responsible should be brought to justice. You can't disrespect any religion or their religious leaders like this. There is no fun in these things... These people are not creative, instead they are sick.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Martin T

      Oh Boo Hoo for the mighty Catholic Church... we laugh and call the Muslims nuts for getting all up in arms over Muhhamed, then the Pope gets his holy undies in an uproar when he is the brunt... How adult.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • William Demuth


      We NEED to disprespect them all.

      Ponzi schemes for the dim witted.

      Sue away they will make millons on the press.

      I am gonna buy their products for all my "fake Christian" freinds, just to stick my finger in the popes eye.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Mel


      November 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • marsmotel

      They got you talking about it and it is on the front of CNN. That is called good advertising! Plus that Nazi Pope guy is the biggest crook in the world. I am surprised it was not a little kid he was kissing. Religious leaders are liars and theives.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Steve the Goat

      William Demuth, while I find all organized religions to be complete and utter crud, except for the church of scientology, they aren't pyramid schemes in the normal sense of the word. If you replace the "rewards" or whatever you get in heaven based on how high up you go, maybe... but aside from that it wouldn't qualify as a pyramid scheme really. There is a lot of money in it for sure though. Basically, we just need to get people to understand their fairy tale books cause hatred and destruction in the world.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Steve the Goat

      Invest now in return for an imaginary payoff in the future.

      Its the definition of a Ponzi.

      When your dead, all you get is maggotts.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  8. Annexian

    The problem is, for "Defemation of Character" it's stuff that you KNOW is untrue designed to damage (and financially is the only thing the courts truly respect) one's reputation...

    Showing the Pope being gay is actually POSITIVE since the Reputation of the Vatican...well...

    Well it is "Gay" but in the old-school term, at least they are showing the Pope kissing an ADULT male...

    November 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  9. Mel

    How stupid of Bennetton! This is going to backfire in a major way. Think of the millions of Catholics who buy their products. They can kiss that market goodbye. The Pink market won't be enough to sustain its business.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • TC

      Don't forget about the hetero market that can't stand seeing 2 dudes – the market that hates seing religion mocked. Dumb company.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Mel

      I for one will NEVER buy their products now. Regardless of what they do now. Lifelong boycott. They talk about encouraging love, then they design the most hateful image they could get away with. Hypocrites!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Martin T

      I do not think that the Catholics make up that big of their market share, I just can't see it. One thing is certain, it has achieved the desired results, people are talking about Benneton.


      November 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Nonimus

      What about all the people saying, "Benetton is still in business? Who knew. Well, I'll go check them out then."

      November 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Please. If that were the case condom companies would be bankrupt.

      The only repsect Actholics pay to anything is lip service.

      Then when they think no one is looking they are as degenerate as us all.

      Thats why I pick up married Christians. Once you get em naked, they are FREAKY!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I'm gay and not very bright, so there.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • RD

      Should have been a picture of the Pope making out with the Virgin Mary, maybe that would have been appropriate.

      November 18, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  10. TC

    Hmmm.... I think the morons in the marketing department and someone in management will be looking for new jobs. Big company but obviously very small-minded, then so uncommitted that they back down one day later. If you are an investor, you might want to put your money somewhere else -can someone say lack of confidence?

    November 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Ah....wait just a second

      Oh puleeze ....
      This add succeeded wonderfully. It had the exact effect they intended. Everyone is talking about it. Congrats boys and girls in marketing @ Benneton.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • TC

      Check the financials next quarter – just becasue you are being talked about doesn't mean you're succeeding.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Mel

      I bet Bennetton will see a nosedive in sales

      November 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  11. Captain America

    I'm catholic myself and though I love Catholicism, it doesn't mean the Church is always in the right (big difference), and theres a lot more important matters the Catholic church needs to deal with instead of pursing legal action against a photo. how about legal action against corruption in the church you know exists? As Victor wooten once said, "we live in a world where we are more comfortable seeing to men kill each other, than kiss each other." whats wrong with that picture?

    November 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • TC

      I pretty much agree with you being RC myslef but typically we envision a battle as one with sides of good and evil. Almost all killing movies are a savior defending the wronged.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Captain America
      Nobody cares what some stupid American Catholic thinks.
      What are you doing on an international website anyways? Stick to American ones.

      (note: this is an echo of what the good Cap'n frequently posts as a reply to me with "Canadian Atheist" in place)

      November 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. hippypoet

    "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,”

    this is not grounds for a lawsuit... its grounds for whinning like a baby but thats about it... i can say whatever i want about the pope and i can't be held to anything unless i threaten him! the pope is g@y and has se-x with men... then crys in a corner about it!

    November 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  13. Martin T

    I wonder if the Pope was just mad because it wasn't a little boy in the picture.? Just saying....

    November 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  14. Nonimus

    Interesting... I haven't heard about the Imam suing.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Mel

      The papers are being delivered by rucksack

      November 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Mohamad

      I'm sure the imam has more important things to do than comment on such an idiotic and pointless advertisement that, untill now, no one knew about.

      November 17, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  15. nightsun2k7

    so when is the vatican going to sue the pope and his buddies for bending little boys over

    November 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • George

      here here

      November 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Mel

      The Pope is the Vatican.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  16. mattyomatt

    Cant blame them for trying to recoup losses from being sued up the a– for their pedophilia.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. jacques lepin

    blasphemy should be a hate crime

    November 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Carl

      A hate crime... against someone who does not exist.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Deal, right after they make stupidity and gullibility crimes, and prove their horse manure was of divine origin.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Nonimus

      If God feels blasphemed, He can file charges against me. No one else has cause.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Martin T

      If that is the case, then it should be a hate crime when Faith-Heads curse me and call me names because I am an atheist. Same principle, I think.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Jennifer

      It is in some countries – You know, the ones in which you can be beheaded for publishing a photo of Muhammad. Let's be more like those countries!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Martin T

      @ Jennifer, yeah, let's be like them... NOT.. but I like your logic.. good work.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Craig

      blasphemy is a victimless crime

      November 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Sane Person

      "god" can file suit anytime he wishes. The pope is no more special then any other human on earth, and in many eyes, very much less.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Mel

      Roll out the athiest's oneliners ... none of this is original

      November 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      No more special than anyone else, eh?
      Then how do you explain his majestic hat?

      November 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • warmesTghosT

      Mel, none of our stuff is original but you idiots have been following the same stupid book of lies for ~2000 years.

      The idiocy of the religious truly knows no bounds.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Carl

      " none of this is original"

      Probably because atheists are not in the habit of making things up.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  18. Tim N

    They can't win since it's a parody and protected speech. Why aren't they "filing suit" against the THOUSANDS of shopped pics of the slimy Pope that have been produced in the last ten years?
    Thousands of pictures much worse than this one. They are all protected speech. More Catholicfail. How pathetic.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Carl

      The pope isn't suing over those pictures of him diddling kids because they are all real. Also, he is the one who uploaded them to show off.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Nonimus

      True for a parody, but since it's an advertisement wouldn't that be copyright infringement. I'm thinking "fair use" doesn't apply in a business setting.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Carl

      Why not? Most paradies not not only "in a business setting", but are in fact sold.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  19. William Demuth

    Tell the pope to cram it.

    Perhaps a picture of him in a Gestapo uniform buggering an altar boy might be more acceptable to them?

    I intend to email the picture to every rectory and catholic school email I have in my database.

    Censor this you degenerate old creep.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  20. JohnR

    I hate agreeing with the Vatican. But I do.

    They shouldn't collect real money, however. A symbolic one euro judgment as has been done in similar cases to make a point but not profiteer would be appropriate.

    November 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • William Demuth

      On what basis do they have a claim?

      At least here in the US, they could produce almost ANYTHING and it would be protected.

      Back in the 70's they made adult films with nuns and priests performing and it was found legal.

      Just because a few believe, the remainder can not be forced to be silent.

      We mock the Muslims for freaking about a Muhammed cartoon, and then the RCC does this.

      They are no better, Bronze Age fools who demand respect for what is in reality nothing more than a mental illness.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • JohnR

      A pic that portrays a specific person doing something that (a) that person finds repugnant and (b) in fact never happened may not be as protected as you blithely assume.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Shadowflash1522

      Not that I disagree with you, William, but you do realize that the dude the Romans crucified lived in the Iron Age (or later, depending on some estimates), right? Bronze Age was Judaism. And the parts you hate the most probably came about during the so-called Dark Ages after the fall of Rome. Before that, there was no RCC.

      So, I believe the correct term is "Iron Age fools and their Dark Ages philosophy"

      November 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • William Demuth


      WRONGO my freind. It is the EXACT basis for the specific laws in place.

      Parody against King George was its basis and central to the thinking of the forefathers.

      Furthermore the Holy Degenerate is clearly a political figure engaged in political speech.

      I am sending it to 10,000 people in my first blast. I would LOVE for the pedos to try and sue me!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I'm guessing. 'unauthorized use of image for commercial gain', or something to that effect.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Your off by a generation dude. Christianity is just Judaisim with a Gay twist.

      It originates with Abraham in the Bronze Age. The whole Old Testament is!

      November 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • JJC

      JohnR: You said: "A pic that portrays a specific person doing something that (a) that person finds repugnant and (b) in fact never happened may not be as protected as you blithely assume."

      Does that mean that all of the tea-party people who had signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache can be sued and is not protected? I think you are totally wrong on this. If free speech is protected and it does not specifically support violence then it should be allowed. The muslims show how backward they are for getting upset about pictures of Mohamed. Now the Catholics have joined the stupid boat. If we stopped everything that offended anyone then we would have to stop it all.

      Freedom can be uncomfortable. Get used to it or get used to dictators and enslavement by the majority.

      November 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Chris

      William, I think you REALLY might want to read up on libel laws before you open your mouth and get yourself in trouble. Within the last year, multiple celebrities have successfully sued for tabloids printing false stories. All examples you've provided deal with fictions based around an organization, not fictions dealing with a specific person. The pope is verifiabley a real person. As such, if somebody opts to slander or libel said person, that person is allowed to take legal recourse, and they often win.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Sauce

      The Catholic Church isnt as wealthy as everyone thinks they are. They donate more to charity than all major worldwide organizations combined every year. The money will go to a good place. Let them sue for whatever they deem fair.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • HellBent

      @Sauce – unless it gets used for hush money.

      Do you have any sources to back up your claims of giving to charity?

      November 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Lousy posting dude.

      He is not a celebrity he is a head of state.

      I can say any damn thing I please about the degenerate, including calling for his murder.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • John Richardson

      William! A picture used by a sleazy marketer to promote sales is not the same as, say, a satirical cartoon. Context matters. I don't see how you could be sued for forwarding it. But you didn't create it and publish it in pursuit of commercial gain.

      But you might really want to tread carefully with calls for murder.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.