Following threats of legal action from the Catholic Church, Benetton has removed its ad depicting Pope Benedict XVI kissing Egyptian imam Mohammed Ahmed al-Tayeb.
The image, which surfaced Wednesday on the Internet, is part of the Italian clothier's Unhate campaign. The Guardianreports that within hours, the Vatican had publicly condemned the ad and announced a crackdown on its continued use.
Press secretary Father Federico Lombardi said: "We cannot but express a resolute protest at the entirely unacceptable use of a manipulated image of the Holy Father, used as part of a publicity campaign which has commercial ends.
"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."
Benetton apologized for causing offense. "We reiterate that the meaning of this campaign is exclusively to combat the culture of hatred in all its forms. 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 from every publication."
According to reports, representative from Cairo's al-Azhar mosque labeled the poster "irresponsible and absurd," although apparently no comment has been issued by al-Tayeb.
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