Clothing chain Benetton has pulled a controversial image of the Pope ‘kissing’ Egyptian cleric Ahmed el Tayeb after the Vatican threatened legal action.
Vatican spokesman Rev Federico Lombardi called the Benetton campaign a “grave disrespect”.
The image of Pope Benedict XVI ‘kissing’ Sheikh el Tayeb, imam of the renowned al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, was pulled almost immediately after the Vatican protested.
The campaign, which also features US President Barack Obama and other world leaders, has provoked a storm of reaction on social networks and in blogs.
The photoshopped images show Obama with Hu Jintao of China and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Nethanyahu is pictured ‘kissing’ Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
The Vatican issued a statement condemning the exploitation of the Pontiff’s image.
“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,” Rev Lombardi said in a statement.
The Benetton advertising campaign called ‘Unhate’ was launched on Wednesday.
Giant posters of the ‘kissing’ ads were launched in Milan, Paris, Tel Aviv and New York.
However, Reuters reported that a poster of the Pope ‘kissing’ was removed from a bridge near the Vatican shortly after it was put up.
“We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms,” a Benetton Group spokesman said in a statement.
“We are therefore sorry that the use of the image of the Pope and the imam has so offended the sentiments of the faithful. In corroboration of our intentions, we have decided, with immediate effect, to withdraw this image.”