Pope Kissing Ad: Vatican Threatens Legal Action Over United Benetton Campaign

The same day United Colors of Benetton released its "Unhate" campaign, which depicted unlikely pairs of world leaders locking lips, the clothing company withdrew a smoldering picture of Pope Benedict XVI kissing Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb.

The Vatican quickly condemned the use of the Pope's visage in the ad, calling it "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," according to The Guardian. Today, the Holy See announced it would attempt legal action, CNN reports.

According to the Associated Press, the Benetton company apologized for offending the faithful and promised to withdraw the image from publication.

The company's executive deputy chairman originally presented the ads as a way to promote "unhate." "We consider them "conception figures" making a statement of brotherhood with a kiss," he said, according to The Times Of India. However, as The Los Angeles Times notes, the Vatican issued a statement saying it would take legal action to prevent the photo's distribution "through the mass media."

The image, however, already has been widely distributed around Rome as well as online. From Reuters:

A large banner with the image of the pope and the imam was hung from a bridge near the Vatican Wednesday morning but later removed.

But Thursday morning the picture was still on the window of a store in the square at Rome's Trevi Fountain, one of the most popular tourist sites in Rome.

Should United Colors of Benetton be allowed to photoshop the Pope kissing an imam, or was the ad unacceptable? After the image's publication, should the Vatican have kicked up a fuss or let the dust settle?

See photos of Benetton's ad campaign below: