Pope kisses Muslim Cleric: Shock 'Unhate' ad canned

Fake photos spark controversy
The Vatican said it would take “the proper legal measures” to stop the use of a photo by the Italian fashion firm Benetton which shows the pope kissing a Muslim imam on the mouth.

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It was not yet clear if the Catholic Church plans to sue Benetton for damages.

The Vatican had previously lashed out at a controversial ad campaign by Benetton, which pairs long-time public rivals sharing a kiss of love and appreciation.

Pope Benedict XVI and Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, Imam at the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, are the only non-politicians featured in the controversial “Unhate” campaign by the clothing company Benetton. The image was bound to draw anger from both Christians and Muslims, and harsh reaction from the Vatican came promptly.

This handout picture released by Italian clothes company Benetton shows a photo montage showing German chancellor Angela Merkel kissing on lips French president Nicolas Sarkozy. (AFP Photo/ Unhate Foundation Benetton)
This handout picture released by Italian clothes company Benetton shows a photo montage showing German chancellor Angela Merkel kissing on lips French president Nicolas Sarkozy. (AFP Photo/ Unhate Foundation Benetton)

“This is a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence against the sentiments of the faithful and a clear example of how advertising can violate elementary rules of respect for people in order to attract attention through provocation," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

The threat to sue over the ad resulted in the removal of the picture from both the campaign’s website and street banners. It is still widely available on the internet however.

The Ad Age company, which created the campaign for Benetton, chose some of the most improbable personalities for their pictures. Barack Obama is featured twice – with Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing passionately
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas kissing passionately

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas passionately kiss in another picture. Yet another shows the leaders of the two Koreas, Lee Myung-bak and Kim Jong-il.

Neither Ad Age nor Benetton said they had a ready replacement for the now-missing Pope pic. Who could the kissers be? Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Saakashvili? John McCain and Fidel Castro? Tony Blair and Muammar Gaddafi? Oh, the last one would be too gross, but on the other hand it would require less photoshopping, since the two did hug in the times when the still-living Libyan leader was welcomed in the UK.