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. John

    They should make one with the pope kissing an 8 year old boy with TRUTH written above

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

    This is completely wrong – the pope and imam are people and this is a blatat infringement on their personal rights. It doesn't matter if they photoshop them kissing each other or a woman. This is libelism, not a promotion of non-hatred.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Philip Hades

      Depends on what country you live in. Public persons have less control over that sort of thing. And it's not legally libel, unless the Pope can prove that he lost money or suffered a setback at his job because of it.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  3. Gumby

    From the article: "It is a serious lack of respect for the Pope".

    So what? The Pope is an evil old man who runs a global child molestation ring in the name of his equally evil god. He deserves no respect, only spittle-flecked contempt.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  4. Charlie from the North

    Thank God for separation of church and state. If the church cared more about the victims of the priests and less about the "image" of the pope the Catholic church (and the world) would be a better place.
    On the bright side the Vatican just wants to sue; no inquisition, no crusade. I think the church has mature in the last 500 years.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Gumby

      Oh, the Vatican would gladly start another Crusade or Inquisition if it could. But this increasingly secular world won't tolerate that crap anymore. If they tried, Vatican City would be a cloud of radioactive dust. Oh, how I wish they'd try... lol

      November 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  5. Mike

    It's too bad that the pope and the imam aren't women. The picture would have came out really hot.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Ike Ashley Obi

    The irony is that a pic that signifies love, inspires so much hate.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  7. Philip Hades

    Poor Ratzenberger got his feelings hurt. Maybe now he'll take a look at the effect of his misogynist, anti-gay words, actions and laws on people and society. Nahhhhh. That's crazy talk. Back to using "cause god said so" as an excuse for amorality and hatred.

    PS I think it's a great ad and a great campaign. I'm bummed to see they pulled it.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  8. BigLou881

    You wanna be edgy Benetton?? Make a picture of Muhammad kissing someone and see what happens. You think you have guts, but really you're a bunch of wimps

    November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  9. Shawn

    I don't like the pic and I think it is very wrong. I mean what's wrong with people?

    November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Realist

    Love the photo. If either side sat back and reflected upon their own doctrines, (e.g. love your fellow man), they would praise the photo as an important step in world piece. Of course, what we get instead is outrage and contempt and legal action... which roughly means that so long as religion is followed and respected in the world, we'll be bound by its dogma rather than its teachings, and we as a species will never truly know peace. How sad that religous people seem to continously behave like the people they decry.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Judy


      November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Philip Hades

      Right on. I agree

      November 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Asher Fern

      @Judy C'mon, Realist has the right to say what s/he wants. Not everybody follows the Roman Catholic Church, and that's okay, so we need to respect that. If a person wants to give their opinion, as long as they don't lie, then so be it. Just because someone rejects the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church, (which is not necessarily what Realist did) that is their choice, and should not be oppressed just because you disagree with them. Just saying.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  11. anon 2

    If you have to bend this low in marketing and advertising to make sales.. then you have hired the wrong advertising company. Plus, your product should stand on its own without controversy. It apparently does not.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Vince

      haha... actually i want to buy from benetton now. brilliant... create controversial advertisement. LOVE IT... don't take it too serious...just have fun with presidency and religions.. LOVE IT

      November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Philip Hades

      Benetton has been runing these sorts of controversial ads for decades. It's EXACTLY the type of image that the company wants to portray. It, also, has been very successful for them.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  12. Kaleem Shahzad

    Its totally wrong for a picture of the pope kissing an imam to be made but pictures of the holy prophet muhammed kissing a man are protected by the freedom of expression and are encouraged

    November 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  13. mn

    I guess there were no intelligent creative minds left at benetton's ad company. We the consumers of the world, deserve better, we know about people's faith and religious values and we treat our neighbors with respect. We are not all haters, so sorry Benetton, try again. Pathetic sorry excuse of an ad that reeks of desperation. And this comes from someone who does support gay rights.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Vince

      actually, supporting human being. Not gay, not politics or religions..

      Support human being just like supporting black or minorities. comon. This is a brilliant advertisement. Lot of exposures.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  14. Hahahahahaha

    A bloodsoaked corporation that protects child molesters and has exorcists on its payroll is suing because its dignity was offended? Bwahahahahaha!

    November 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • wrack


      November 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Gumby


      November 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  15. joyce andrews

    Good to see that the Vatican is condemning this fake photo. Now, when the Moslems also condemn it (on behalf of the Imam), are we going to scream "Freedom of Expression"???? Seems we Christians can be indignant over something like this, but when cartoons about Mohammed are condemned by the Moslems, we think them intolerant. Why can't we all, God's creatures, just respect each other and think before we present something disprectful ?????

    November 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  16. zing

    It reminds me of that movie: Will He Bonk Ya in the Chocolate Factory.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
  17. The pope's breath mints are made of people!!!


    November 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • phoodphite

      Wait a minute – did Arthur C Clark come out with another book?

      November 17, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  18. Steve

    Who are the "competent authorities" mentioned? What does "adequate protection for the figure" mean? Does this mean the Pope image and facsimiles will be copyright? I don't think the Vatican has a clue anymore about what happens outside the palace.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Jack-Assman

    Wow truly a sickening picture whichever way you look at it, hate love or just plan stupid! Where is this all coming from and what part of the community is this idea originating from, Chrstians, Muslims Jews etc. Maybe it's a subliminal message of hate and not vice versa, I'm sure the jews will take the flak for this in some sick twisted way.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  20. Hilikus00

    Whether I agree with them or not (I don't, no god tells me who to hate), this picture is using their highest holy man doing something that is against their religion. The Vatican being upset by it shouldn't be a surprise...and according to their beliefs, rightfully so.

    If there was a picture doctored to show atheists eating babies, I would be highly upset. Eating babies is against my beliefs.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • IK

      I don't think anyone thinks it's a surprise but your comparison to atheists eating babies is way off base.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Philip Hades

      Hey, it's not like those babies are gonna eat themselves. I think it would be a sin to just let 'em go to waste.

      November 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Wang Long

      I don't understand why when a Pope and Iman are ridiculed, it's suddenly outrageous. What about all the other pictures that ridiculed various leaders, great and small? Why didn't they cause such outrage?

      I don’t think religious figure should be given special treatment.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:10 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.