'Pope Kissing Imam' Ad Pulled After Vatican Complain to Benetton

Italian clothing company Benetton has pulled a digitally-altered advertisement of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a senior Egyptian imam after an uproar from the Vatican, according to the BBC.

The ad is part of the clothing company's global "Unhate" campaign, which features other photos of political and religious leaders kissing. Images include President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Vatican was outraged when the ad of the pope and imam kissing was displayed Wednesday morning. It was later removed.

The Vatican said it would take legal action against Benetton, and "has instructed its lawyers, in Italy and abroad, to take appropriate action" to prevent the circulation of the photograph, according to The New York Post.

"We must express a firm complaint for the unacceptable use of his Holy Father's image, manipulated and exploited in an advertising campaign with a commercial purpose," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement. "This shows a grave lack of respect for the pope, 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."

Benetton apologized for the offense it caused, but argued that it was done with good intentions to counter the "culture of hatred" that exists in the world today.

"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," Deputy Chairman of the Benetton Group Alessandro Benetton said in a statement. "At this moment in history, so full of major upheavals and equally large hopes, we have decided, through this campaign, to give widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and invite the citizens of every country to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of 'the other’ and of what is unfamiliar to us."