Vatican blasts ad of kissing pope

Update: Hours after the Vatican condemned an Italian ad campaign that depicted Pope Benedict XVI kissing a Muslim leader, the Italian fashion house Benetton withdrew the photo.

The Vatican today blasted as “completely unacceptable” a new advertisement by the Italian clothing giant Benetton, which shows Pope Benedict XVI kissing an Egyptian imam as part of a new campaign titled “Unhate.”

Other ads in the same series show President Barack Obama kissing Chinese Premier Hu Jintao, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu smooching Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Posters with the images have appeared in Benetton clothing stores across the globe as well as in newspapers, magazines and on Internet websites.

In a statement released today, the Vatican said the ad featuring Benedict XVI reflects a “grave lack of respect for the pope” and indicated that the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s central administrative office, is considering appeals to the “competent authorities … to ensure respect for the figure of the Holy Father.”

Relations between the Vatican and Islamic authorities in Egypt have been tense in recent months. The Al-Azhar mosque and university in Cairo, widely seen as a central point of reference in the Sunni world, suspended relations with the Vatican in the wake of comments by Benedict XVI protesting the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt.

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In a statement released today, Benetton defended its ad campaign. The company, which became famous in the 1990s with a series of shocking ads, said it was also setting up a foundation to promote international tolerance.

“The central theme is the kiss, the most universal symbol of love, between world political and religious leaders,” the company said.

The following is an NCR translation of the Vatican statement.

Statement of Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, on Benetton Ad

A decisive protest must be expressed for the completely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and instrumentalized in the context of a publicity campaign of a commercial nature. It’s a question of a grave lack of respect for the pope, of an offense to the sentiments of the faithful, [and] of a evident demonstration of how, in the context of publicity, it’s possible to violate elementary rules of respect for persons in order to attract attention with provocations. The Secretariat of State is evaluating the steps to take with the competent authorities in order to guarantee a just protection of respect for the figure of the Holy Father.

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