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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. R

    A child molester got angry, when he thinks his photo is being molested.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  2. R

    Pope is angry, because he is kissing Muslim guy, he is kissing. Put a kid in there...

    November 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • RR

      Yes I am 100% agree with you,, but i want to say Muslims never hate anyone we are treat and respect everybody with love and kind,,my partner man is a christian and I am Muslaim,,and my best freind is jewish man see it is LOVE and rspect .
      No abused and play with kids this is not fair NO-WAY. O hate that,,almost lots of my american christain friends has been miss treated at their churches when they were kids,,YES it is happened this is very bad . Happy Thanks Giving

      November 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  3. R

    Out of all other world leaders in ad. Only tolerant one reacted...

    November 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  4. William Demuth

    Sauce

    The property alone the Church owns in NYC makes them welathier than about half the nations on this planet.

    Throw in the Art the donations, the relics and all the stuff the stole from the Jews, and I estimate their holdings in the TRILLIONS.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  5. R

    Vatican will not take action on child molesters as they are busy taking action against pope in photo molesters.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  6. GoodDoctor

    I would think the Muslim community would be flipping out about this too but no mention. After all, they are two men kissing and not in any Muslim approved way I would guess? Pretty gay and not on the Muslim hit parade list.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Ya wanna FREAK em out just make a pic of Mohammed throwing a hip lip lock on Jesus

      Now that gets some COVERAGE.

      Granted it might start WW3 but it would make some interesting 60 minutes episodes!

      November 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  7. J.W

    I think that this campaign has really helped to make a name for this company. I had never head of them before this.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • LT

      I love it! I will be checking out Benetton and spending money at their stores and contributing to this Unhate org if they are an actual charity.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  8. ELPTX

    I don't get it? What's wrong with a little peck. And the Vatican says its a lack of respect for the pope? Oh c'mon. I think the Vatican needs a little humility as does the Holy See. How many child abuse scandals DIDN'T surface that the pontiff successfully cover up during his time at Vatican City. Respect for the pope! That's funny! What about the people that have been victimized by the church? Where is their respect. We don't need a pope to worship God. Vatican City is simply overhead. Outdated, obsolete, costly, antiquated overhead. Respect for the pope!!! That's rich.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • R

      Here is wrong thing. Pope expected a kid. they put Muslim instead.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • LT

      I don't understand how anyone – Catholic or otherwise – can have any respect left for the Catholic church. It's a bunch of old men from bygone eras who have no business dictating to others about how they should live their lives.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  9. R

    Let me understand correctly. Out of all kissing people, a religious leader, who call himself tolerant person and try to teach forgiveness to the victims of molesters, will not tolerate his photo being used as message of love. Hmm....

    November 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  10. Brian

    I wish the Vatican would get this motivated about their REAL issues – which are so obvious I don't have to mention them.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  11. Grossed Out Man

    Looking at this ad makes me quite certain I will never understand how gay men can find other men attractive at all.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Soicanleavecomments OnBlogs

      your clue is – gay men

      November 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • RR

      you should try to kiss a man you like and you will know,,it is wonderful

      November 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • M

      What about two old hags kissing? Ugly people come in both male and female form! These two men just happen to both be ugly.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  12. M. Stark

    It seems to me that this ad directs hatred toward the pope in particular and religion in general. Beneton's reason of opposing hatred doesn't stand up. They just want to create buzz so they can make more money. And you guys think religion is hypocritical?

    November 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      The company does not claim to be divine,

      They are just a bunch of gay guys who have had enough of Obergrupenfuhrer Ratzinger.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Richard Dawkins.

      Spot On.

      Just wait till the atheists come on here attacking you........it's what they do.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @M.

      It's not really directing hatred towards anyone, thats sort of the point. Sure, they knew they were going to attract some anger and outrage, but all they're doing is trying to use imagery to try and highlight that there needs to be more love in the world, my guess is they wanted to try jesus and muahmmed but that would have probably ended worse for them. I don't find anything hypocritical in this ad or what they're trying to do, they just want to get attention and voila they have it

      November 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • J.W

      I have never even seen a picture of Muhammad

      November 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • hippypoet

      @J.W you will never see an image of the prophet for islam.. its against there laws. every time a comic wants to be funny they show an image of a blank picture and say "picture unaval"

      November 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Mel

      "Sure, they knew they were going to attract some anger and outrage, but all they're doing is trying to use imagery to try and highlight that there needs to be more love in the world" What kind of crazy logic, is that? Attracting anger and outrage is the DIRECT opposite of trying to bring about more love in the world. Madness.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • RR

      Thank you i like your reply,,very good,,i like to kiss big chubby men,,it is wonderful to see the kind in thier eyes..Happy thanksgiving

      November 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @mel

      They're not trying to stoke anger, they're trying to start discussion, lay out the hate on the table and see if anyone bites. Any news is good news in the marketing biz and if media outlets everywhere want to pick up your ad and display it everywhere without you having to pay a cent,.... well thats just a bonus

      November 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  13. William Demuth

    Besides, he is ALSO a head of State

    The Vatican is a country, and to ban parody against him would mean Parody of ANY foriegn leader or coutry (think Stalin, Hitler, the Ayatollahs, Sadam) would be illegal.

    You can burn the degenerate in effigy or make Pope condoms and he would be powerless to stop it.

    Actually based on current law, I suspect you could call for his assasination and it would still be protected.

    In truth there is no higher form of protected speech in our country

    November 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  14. lhpogo

    And I'm glad the Vatican is similarly taking such hasty and timely action against pedophile priests in their ranks! Oh... never mind... I guess they have kissing ads to worry about, maybe they'll get to the pedophiles someday...

    November 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  15. Joe

    CNN keeps this story on the main page because of the photo, and because they are anti-Christian.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • lhpogo

      Did you ever think that it was simply to generate more ad revenue by getting people to click on it? No no, everything is a conspiracy against Christians....

      November 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Did you know Fox has a HUGE Muslim share holder?

      CNN dosen't hate Christians, they have just realized it is profitable to cater to those who do.

      All of thoise the church has abused are using their money and political power to get some payback.

      I suggest you become a Mormon, cause Christianity, especially the RCC variant of the cult is TOAST!

      November 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Hellbert

      Yes, he's already a moron. He needs just needs to spell it differently.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  16. Robert

    Well at least the emissaries from the Vatican will use less incendiary measures to resolve their part if the conflict...

    November 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  17. united colors of sacrilege

    You have committed a sacrilege on kissing.
    If that picture is the symbol of love, then people in love feel defiled and refuse to KISS.
    Thanks for turning something as beautiful as a kiss into something grotesque.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • warmesTghosT

      Yeah they're both really ugly men. If it was, say, Jake Gyllenhaal and Leonardo DiCaprio I'd totally be on board.

      And I'm a straight man.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  18. Doc Vestibule

    Me likeys. I love offending innocent people, it's what give me my kicks. Afterall, its the only thing enjoyable in my meaningless life.

    November 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Well said. 100% agree.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • hippypoet

      right there with the both of you. Kinda feel evil at times but i just roll w it bc i have no morals and do as i see fit.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Mother Earth

      @Doc et al

      What is wrong with you all? Sad, sad world we're living in when evil is praised and good is attacked.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Mother Earth

      @Doc et aI

      What is wrong with you all? Sad, sad world we're living in when evil is praised and good is attacked.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • warmesTghosT

      Well I can't find anything about the Imam, but the Pope is far from innocent.

      And if this offends you, grow thicker skin.

      November 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Suspcious

      I suspect all these posts are imposters....

      November 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Doc we know this wasn't you.

      Leave it to the Christians to lie.

      They always want to be someone else, because what they really are is inconsequential!

      November 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  19. jdalco

    they had to doctor the Obama photo??? wow

    November 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  20. DC

    Remember back when Benetton just marketed clothes? Me neither...

    November 17, 2011 at 4:19 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.