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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. THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

    I'M CURIOUS TO KNOW WHEN THE VATICAN IS GOING TO ORDER THE CHURCHES TO START HUNTING, TORTURING AND BURNING WITCHES AGAIN.

    November 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      When you turn off your CAPS LOCK dork.

      November 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  2. Passive Aggressive

    Who wants to do some un-hating? Looks like fun!

    November 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  3. Passive Aggressive

    Agree with T.
    I think the pic in question is not gay enough! I am not a religious person nor do I ever unti-gays (when they are tied together), however if I was religious the gayness of this scene would arouse me deeply. I also think this pic is perfectly insulting to the 2 creeps who are depicted and are easily recognizable as themselves. If I were one of them I would kill myself for being such a sc-um bag. I also think that if ucb chose a milder image like a hug or better yet a handshake they would get a totally different msg across and have far less negative echoes which would be contrary to the point of the ad.

    November 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • R

      There are other world leaders kissing each others in ad. However, tolerant Pope could not tolerate it.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • R

      Of course Pope f***kin* humanity, would be more truthful.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      I kissed a religious leader and got pregnant by Bieber. Law suit pending DNA test.

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

    According to William, they are Gaydefiles.

    November 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  5. frakes

    @ Tony: I agree, why IS Mississippi last in everything? The educational system in MS needs total revamping. Luckily, I was raised (reared) mainly in Atlanta, Ga., and attended elementary and high school there. The school system in Atlanta, Decatur, and Stone Mountain was excellent.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      I THINK MISSISSIPPI IS NUMBER ONE IN OBESITY. GIVE THEM SOME CREDIT.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I think they're also number one in people who post using all caps.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN NEW YORK. GUESS AGAIN.

      ANOTHER EVENING OF KEYBOARD COMMANDO CAPS LOCK QUIPS. YOU AREN'T PREDICTABLE OR ANYTHING.

      November 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • John Richardson

      This is the first time I mentioned all caps. So I'm not sure why you think I'm predictable. Anyway, your response is nonsensical. I didn't say YOU were born in Mississippi, but rather that Mississippi is number one in having people like you who post in all caps. I didn't say that no one in NY is too dumb to figure out how to capitalize some but not all letters.

      November 17, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • THE BIBLE IS GARBAGE

      THANKS FOR WASTING YOUR TIME EXPLAINING NOTHING FOR NOTHING.

      November 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  6. cloud91977

    If they sue Benneton I porpose that all the people they routinely discriminate against get together and file a massive civil lawsuit against them.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • R

      Hey...you are a pedophile and Nazi HATER. Catholics will sue you too.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • cloud91977

      If I were a pedophile they'd porobably try to recruit me.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • R

      I am sorry, but you are not pedophile.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      I am fond of marine mammals too cloud.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  7. cloud91977

    If you're offended, I propose that that is what is so offensive, not the image.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  8. cloud91977

    They're gonna sue? For what? The pope's image isn't copyrighted. The image doesn't defame the church in any way (which wouldn't be something they could sue for anyway). The message on the image is UNHATE, not anything that promotes hate against the church (something else they couldn't sue for anyway).

    IMO much of the stink about the image stems from the fact that it shows two men kissing and from the fact that so many wrongly believe that the pope deserves anymore respect than any other human being.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • R

      "UNHATE" is sin. Read the Bible

      November 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • R

      I mean Catholic Bible...

      November 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Your image isn't copyrighted, either. So I guess if Benetton used a depiction of a person clearly identifiable as you kissing someone who, for wahatever reason, you would never kiss, you'd be fine with it.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  9. Sam

    Gay? Pedophile? Gay? Pedophile? Gay? Pedophile?...

    Settle it down once and for all.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • R

      Gays are good. So pedophile...

      November 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  10. T.

    I think the pic in question is a bit too gay! I am not a religious person or unti-gays however if I was religious the gayness of this scene would insult me deeply. I also think this pic is insulting to the 2 men who are depicted and are easily recognisable as themselves. If that were to happen to me I would be deeply hurt and outraged!
    I also think that if ucb chose a milder image like a hug or better yet a handshake they would get the same msg across and have far less negative echos.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • Gayle

      Good idea, handshake would of been better.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • R

      69 would be best...:)

      November 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Passive Aggressive

      I think the pic in question is not gay enough! I am not a religious person nor do I ever unti-gays (when they are tied together), however if I was religious the gayness of this scene would arouse me deeply. I also think this pic is perfectly insulting to the 2 creeps who are depicted and are easily recognizable as themselves. If I were one of them I would kill myself for being such a sc-um bag. I also think that if ucb chose a milder image like a hug or better yet a handshake they would get a totally different msg across and have far less negative echoes which would be contrary to the point of the ad.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  11. CalmDown

    It's just a picture! People need to start focusing on more important problems than a freaking photoshoped picture. Seriously???

    November 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • R

      Is it work of Photoshop ? Cathols will sue Adobe too...

      November 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • CalmDown

      Just wondering, who were them two kissing like THAT initially? I mean photoshop is just bunch of layers sooooo where are the REAL fitting pieces? >.<

      November 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • R

      One was pope. Another was an Imam. I guess. they were in 60 position. So, to make it appropriate we changed the position.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • R

      I mean 69.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  12. Ho

    Off the beaten path.
    Pope, cash in your gold and silver and pay off Italy's debt.
    With no country to support no taxes to pay the pope and fiends could probably buy China.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • R

      Poor Chinese kids.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. Gayle

    This is Terrible! I'm not Catholic but think this picture is wrong and a big Sin. It's like telling a lie, the Pope wouldn't kiss a Muslim Imam and the other way around.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • R

      Yes, pope will never kiss an Imam. He might try to kill him, but never kiss him. Pope will kiss a kid. He will also protect some one who kiss a kid. 😉

      November 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Gayle

      The Pope wouldn't want to kill anyone I'm sure. U r just a hateful person who would probably do something like that. Not the Pope!

      November 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • R

      Between me and him....who would kill ? good question. I guess, person who were Nazi. Now who was Nazi ? Not me, as I born in 70s. 🙂

      November 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • R

      Also, who would kill ? good question. Who protected pedophile ? ...ka....boom....

      November 17, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • R

      So who is hateful ? Me or Pope ? good question. I don't mind kissing. Pope did. I don't hate "Unhate", pope do....KAAAA....BOOOOMMM....

      November 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  14. hmmm... torn what to think

    thanks bunch for not showing my comment ... cencosred crap

    November 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  15. frakes

    Oh Lawdy, Lawdy. Catholics are SO sensitive! Why do Catholics pray to Mary, instead of praying directly to God??? Why build a statue of Mary in every Catholic church? Why pray to her?
    Read the King James Version of the Ten Commandments.
    Commandment 2: says
    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

    So, answer me this: Why, Catholics, do you build statues of the Blessed Mother Mary, and pray to her, when CLEARLY, the Bible says NOT to?
    Sign me,
    Curious to Know in Mississippi

    November 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Think Again

      frakes, Lawdy, Lawdy, why do you bother to pray to this "God"? - it does no more than wishing upon a star.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • hmmm... torn what to think

      thank you!!!!! I respect both sides yet again do not understand the upset behavior about this, wasen't the excuse to the showing of their prophet down played by freedom of press? well isn't this freedom of press, expression, speech ... ???

      November 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Tony

      Seriously? First of all that "commandment" can be interpreted to have any number of meanings, second the whole "my religion is more real than your religion" is an argument made by gradeschoolers. Third, I have a question for you... What is so wrong with Mississippi? Why is it constantly last in everything including IQ.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • hmmm... torn what to think

      Hey "Think Again" how bout you take yourself up on our names advice?? Why do you bother insulting other ppls believs??

      November 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • R

      For unhate, please go kiss Pope. He is waiting for you.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • hmmm... torn what to think

      sure "R" ... would he kiss a girl though... lemme think....

      November 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • R

      No...Pope like Kids only...

      November 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • hmmm... torn what to think

      darn it, and i was getting my chapstick ready

      November 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Think Again

      hmmm... torn what to think
      "Hey "Think Again" how bout you take yourself up on our names advice?? Why do you bother insulting other ppls believs??"

      Just giving @frakes a dose of his/her own medicine.

      Why do you not castigate him/her in a similar manner?

      November 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  16. Warren

    Yeah far be it for the Roman Catholic Church to support a great illustration of the Christian Kiss of Peace (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_of_peace). Instead they take offense and threaten lawsuits. Its mentioned 5 times in the New Testament. Kind of strange for most westerners but definitely a part of the Catholic version of Christianity at least, and definitely of many Mediterranean cultures.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • R

      HOOOOOOCHI...MAAMAA......

      November 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  17. The Imam

    I KISSED THE POPE AND I LIKED IT

    This was never the way I planned
    Not my intention
    I got so brave, cup of tea in hand
    Lost my discretion
    It's not what I'm used to
    Just wanna try him on
    I'm curious for him caught my attention
    I kissed the pope and I liked it
    The taste of his cherry chap stick
    I kissed the pope just to try it
    I hope my 4 wives don't mind it

    November 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • R

      Did he used tongue ? Just curious.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  18. The Imam

    I KISSED THE POPE AND I LIKED IT

    November 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • R

      But pope is angry. He expected a kid and he got you...:)

      November 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  19. John Perry

    Oh, shut up. There are far worse things happening on our planet caused by the very religions you defend. It's man loving man and how it should be – but with all you uptight spiteful haters out there, the way it never will be.

    November 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • R

      Hey Perry, you are wrong. This is sin. There should be a kid instead of Imam. Read the Bible.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  20. The Bobinator

    Another example of the Catholic Church trying to silence people who are critical of it or portray it in a negative light. I would hope Benetton's response would be something like this...

    "We are sorry you find this picture offensive, however the pope is a public figure and subject to ridicule. If you have serious issues with the picture, I suggest you address them to the brick wall over there, because it'll be slightly more responsive then we are. PS: Get f'd, literally, it'd cause you to be less uptight. But only to adults. Phew, that was a close one."

    November 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Common Sense

      You're saying that an image of the pope kissing another man is a negative image? I thought you were for gay rights.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      So when is it the point that you should go from being silent to the ridicule to speaking up for oneself?

      As much as a few folks might declare that the church or this organization or group should be open to ridicule I think as being adults the same ones should be prepared and not cry foul when they get a bloody nose for putting forth the ridicule.

      Sorta like I believe that the Danish papers that ran the Mohammed cartoons had every right to post them. They also needed to bear the brunt of the retaliation from parts of the Muslim community. Just like the comedian on stage telling jokes and singles out a guy in the audience. If that same guy gets offended and jumps on stage and beats the brakes off of the comedian ..... I would say he told the joke and now he or she needs to take the fall out...... Well maybe, at least get one or two shots in 🙂

      There was a saying. If you keep knocking on the devils door do not weep and cry when he answers it.

      November 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Well, Mark, Benetton needs to bear responsibility for their childish actions. But in the Danish case, there were threats of violence and real riots. Anyone threatening or committing acts of violence over a picture, however offensive, are way out of line. So if the "bloody nose" you are talking about is figurative, I agree. If literal, no.

      November 17, 2011 at 8:50 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.