A controversial Benetton advert featuring a photo of the Pope kissing an Imam has been withdrawn, after provoking outrage from the Vatican.
The digitally enhanced image (above) was part of Benetton's new "Unhate" campaign to promote "the most universal symbol of love, between world political and religious leaders."
The photo of the Pope embracing the grand sheikh of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb, appeared briefly in Rome yesterday.
But the commercial was met with immediate indignation from the Vatican for showing "a grave lack of respect for the Pope."
"We must express the firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends," said Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi. "This shows ... an offence to the feelings of believers, a clear demonstration of how publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people by attracting attention with provocation."
The Italian clothing company later apologised and pulled the ad, although other digitally manipulated images from its new campaign remain.
They include images of German chancellor Angela Merkel locking lips with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, China's leader Hu Jintao kissing Barack Obama and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas embracing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (above, photos 2-4).
"While global love is still a utopia, albeit a worthy one, the invitation 'not to hate', to combat the 'culture of hatred', is an ambitious but realistic objective," said Alessandro Benetton, Executive Deputy Chairman of Benetton Group, in a statement yesterday.
"It (the campaign) fits perfectly with the values and history of Benetton, which chooses social issues and actively promotes humanitarian causes that could not otherwise have been communicated on a global scale, and in doing so has given a sense and a value to its brand, building a lasting dialogue with the people of the world."
Benetton, which is struggling in the face of profit losses, is well known for its controversial adverts. Previous commercials include a photo of grieving parents at the bedside of a man dying of Aids.