The Italian clothing company Benetton has withdrawn a poster ad of a doctored photo of Pope Benedict XVI kissing an imam from its global “Unhate” ad campaign.
The move came after heavy criticism from the Vatican, which expressed "the firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father," Vatican Radio reported.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the use of the Pope’s image was “manipulative,” adding that it may take legal action against Benetton.
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The image, which was also hung from a bridge near the Vatican, shows the Pope kissing Egypt’s Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, one of Islam's leading figures, on the lips.
Benetton said it was "sorry that the use of the image had so hurt the sensibilities of the faithful" – but it defended its campaign saying its purpose was to” battle the culture of hate in all its forms".
“Unhate,” which was launched Wednesday, depicts a series of photo montages of religious and political figures kissing – including an image of US President Barack Obama locking lips with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Another poster shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel cosying up to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The campaign is part of Benetton’s support for the Unhate Foundation.
Scroll down for video of offending poster being hung from a bridge near the Vatican ...