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. zack



    November 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • Vince

      This is sooo wrong... LOL... I like it...

      November 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  2. Bob

    "It is a serious lack of respect for the Pope..." – and what exactly has the catholic church done to earn this respect it thinks it deserves lately.....?

    November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  3. kitcat

    Really, serious you get mad over this but it's ok for them to kiss little boy's instead!! Really

    November 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm |


    November 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • phoodphite

      There is a lot of gold in the Vatican. So I'm afraid I would have to ask you to refrain from using the rubble from there in my cat litter. But Bible paper ground up would probably not harm kitty.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • bill

      and a holy fu to u 2

      November 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Bob

      You have good point there – but how about using the rubble to fill up the mediterranean? That way, there is more land and everyone can stop fighting about land in that region.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mel


      November 17, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  5. Surprised

    So the Muslims are not offended but the Vatican is. Seems to me that someone doth protest too much...

    November 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • bill

      why thy you my lady .... me thinks

      November 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  6. Joe L

    Shouldn't the Vatican just forgive Benetton? That's what the Bible says, right?
    (1 Corinthians 6:7
    7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.) If the Vatican represents Jesus, then to sue someone or take legal action against anyone for any reason is hypocricy. It s not Christ like.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • blf83

      Well said!

      November 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • oldguy

      well, y'see, that's just it with fascist fundamentalists

      November 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • bill

      you have no clue what it is to be christ like. if he and peter were here this time he would not order peter to put down his sword.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Mel

      Every person has a right not to have their image used without their permission in an advertisement or elsewhere, even famous people, especially when it is being used to tarnish and slander. All the people here defending this because you don't like the Pope, should realise that ordinary people have their lives destroyed by this practise.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  7. coder

    thousands of years of murder, greed, lying and self-righteousness -- yet, the pope is 'offended' by advertising...

    either god or the pope has their priorities backwards

    November 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  8. penny

    These ads are in very bad taste – and highly offensive to those in the photos. Benetton is invoking the very thing they claim they are making a statement against – and it is deliberate. They've lost me as a customer.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Ph.D in Common Sense.

      The fact that you were a customer is laughable.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Karrynme

      I am with you Ph. D...Penny isn't dressing in that garb but perhaps a pair of capri pants and a knitted sweater

      November 17, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  9. phoodphite

    United Tongues of Benevolence

    November 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  10. Logical Citizen

    For anyone who would approve of this poster: you have every right to believe what you will in the Free Establishment clause. Now, leave others to believe what they will. Don't tread on anyone else's beliefs; hostility works both ways

    November 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  11. John B

    I wonder what they would have said had it been a little boy instead.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • harry

      It wasn't a little boy. Period. No comparison.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  12. Max

    So priests with children gets covered up and accepted by lack of direct conflict, but a kiss between two adults must be sued and hounded to make sure it never shows again? I think there's a problem with priorities there. Love more. Hate less.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • pantycrickett

      I have found for the most part religious people are like vampires. They neither have a reflection.

      November 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. pantycrickett

    how terribly wrong this has become.... an ad against hate makes the religious hierarchy mad enough to crucify someone.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Max

      Odd how that repeats that way, uh?

      November 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  14. dondondon

    if only it would have really happened, it would be a good thing for the world.. but wacko's on both sides can't get past their own hang-ups. Kudo's to Benetton

    November 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • blf83


      November 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  15. blf83

    Get over it, Bene--, You will get much better traction with a sense of humor. Fighting this will give Benetton free advertising and make the Vatican look foolish.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  16. Dc mortimer

    Im sure the muslims will sort out Benneton .

    November 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  17. r-hope

    Classic case of Benetton having their heart in the right place but used the wrong heads........

    November 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  18. Iqbal Khan


    November 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Ph.D in Common Sense.


      November 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Michael

    Kinda ironic that the Vatican, which is supposed to be spreading a message of love, hates that poster. Well not ironic if you instead realize that the Vatican is the center of darkness on our world.

    November 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  20. Sam Harris

    That Richard Dawkins. is a cooooool dude!

    November 17, 2011 at 5:24 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.