Vatican Threatens Benetton Over Ad Featuring Pope Kissing Imam


The new Benetton ad campaign I posted about yesterday has the Vatican furious and they're planning legal action to stop use of an ad featuring Pope Benedict kissing an Imam, Reuters reports:

A statement said the Vatican had told its lawyers in Italy and around the world to "take the proper legal measures" to stop the use of the photo, even in the media. It was not clear from the statement if the Vatican intended to sue Benetton directly for damages.

The statement said the ad was "damaging to not only to dignity of the pope and the Catholic Church but also to the feelings of believers."

Said spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Wednesday night: "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."

Other ads feature Obama kissing Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy kissing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.


  1. Chip says

    Ha ha ha. The only thing wrong with that photo is that the poop should have been kissing a little boy instead.

  2. Lymis says

    I don’t support the pearl clutching that this is some sort of special personal affront to the pope, but it’s a pretty crappy and inappropriate thing to do to anyone.

    Using someone’s image in an international marketing campaign without their approval and without paying them, especially when it is done is ways that can be reasonably assumed to offend them, is wrong for a lot of reasons.

    Frankly, they SHOULD sue. But they should do it because it’s wrong in general, not because the pope is some special snowflake and Catholics are uniquely offended.

  3. says

    Geez, Ratzinger can’t keep his tongue outta other guy’s mouths. I’m starting to wonder whether he is a little light in those red Prada shoes.

  4. Briartz says

    Even the Church misconstrues its own message about love, humanity, humbleness. This scene in no way violates any biblical truths or offends anyone’s dignity. Kissing is not inappropriate conduct between anyone. It’s unfortunate when people hate love and any illustration of it. A kiss or a hug is far greater than any act of violence or misguided political action (whether it is from a country, individual, or any religion). It is plain and simple vanity if you ask me. Should we hate the sin but love the sinner this time?

  5. kodiak says

    They don’t look like they’re enjoying it much. Maybe they should
    have been smiling and holding hands. Or had Chi Chi La Rue
    do the photo shoot.

  6. Pugzz says

    I remember when Benetton used a visual of a man dying from AIDS in the 90’s. To shock and get a message across. I hated it then and couldn’t believe they would do that to sell sweaters. I even wrote letters to them.
    Now, I know better. Their campaigns are brilliantly subversive. That ad with the face of AIDS ended up bring AIDS and the stigma out of the closet. It also brought some compassion as the guy with AIDS looked very much like a dying Christ figure. I’m not sure it even sold sweaters. These guys know how to cause trouble and get attention.

  7. john patrick says

    If il papa was offended, he has no sense of humor. Of course, maybe the picture hit too close to home.

  8. WebHybrid says

    “This is a grave lack of respect for the pope.”

    And your point is . . .?. . .

    Three cheers for Benetton.

  9. LuckyLinden says

    I think intent matters a lot here. Reagardless of what you think of Catholics or Muslims, Obama, et. al. it is one thing to engage in political satire or make an artistic point, it is quite another to use someone’s image in a way that is guaranteed to provoke, if not offend, for the purpose of selling your clothes, making a profit, and getting talked about. It’s no different than Spencer and Heidi or the Kardashians and their stunts to shock and be talked about, except the only person they are pimping is themselves and THEY get the money. Here, leaders in two major conservative faiths, and the leaders of France, Germany, and.the United States are being used inappropriately so that Benneton can be more famous and get more money. Imagine if it was you, a family member, or your husband who was sudfenly ona Billboard kissing, say, Ann Coulter or John Boehner in someone else’s advertisement…without your permission or payment. The fact that someone else thinks its funny or hot would be irrelevant. Its the fact that any true political, satirical, or artistic intent is second here to the commercial and bizz/fame-craving intent that bugs me.

    And anyone who thinks the Catholic Church is why this got pulled is probably buying into PR. The Church objects to these kinds of things all the time and even threatens a bit, as any public figures do, but the real threat is from Islamic extremists who will KILL or call for the killing of those who disrespect their faith who would be motivation for pulling such an ad. In Italy, the Pope and Church is satirized fairly regularly, but it plays a lot better to pull the ad over objections from/respect for the Church than to appear to be giving into Muslim terror.

  10. Photoman says

    Benetton actually has a historical and legal right to use the images of public figures in an editorial matter. They are taking images of both sides of conflicting sides and uniting them under the tag “UNHATE”. Religious figures aren’t exempt from that. The US supreme court said much the same thing in the Hustler/Jerry Falwell case.

    Personally, I think this is just another example of the largest victimizer in human history trying to play the victim. I don’t care who the pope (lower case p intentional) or the other “princes of the church” think they are, they have no more special rights than anyone else.

  11. anon says

    This kind of misplaced outrage creates the notorious Streisand effect of informing everyone who otherwise didn’t know of the bad PR about you. Good move!

  12. enough already says

    It’s called freedom of speech, christers. Suck it up.
    I just added Benetton to my preferred merchant list.

  13. say what says

    there holy fairytale book has the apostles greeting each other with holy kisses/ kiss of peace quite often while also stating men and women should not sit together in gatherings of believers

  14. Angus says

    Boy the Vatican was quick to react to this. Pity it has taken them decades to respond to their priests raping children.

  15. Jack M says

    In the end, didn’t Benneton get the publicity they were looking for? Looks like their ad campaign was a success.

  16. say what says


    well it depends on if he is a sunni or shia Iman

    Anyone know?

    Sunni Imans are of little importanct while Shia Imans are on the level of catholic pishops and popes

    Sunnis outnumber shias so if a shia iman the muslim world will most likely say so what since Sunni and Shias hate each other anyway like protestants and catholics hate each other

  17. TampaZeke says

    It seems to me that it’s the IMAM who has grounds to sue for defamation of character. To suggest that he doesn’t have better taste in men is just CRIMINAL!

  18. Jeff R. says

    @ Lymis… LIGHTEN UP! The Pope’s said HATEFUL, un-Christian things to us, like gay people have, “An objective disorder.” … says the Nazi.

    @ WebHybrid… Right on!

  19. SFShawn says

    Anything that gets those idiot priests to pay attention to the real world is a good thing. Millions suffering every day and THIS kissing ad makes them ‘outraged’.
    The church has always been out of touch but this is classic.

  20. Ricco says

    The Pope is a public figure, he is not you or me, so however petty the ad campaign meant to be, whatever provocation intended, as a public figure he is fodder for this kind of satire.

    Perhaps the message does get lost in the satire, but let’s remember that the Catholic church, for centuries, and literally under every pope, has been a warlike machine, attacking people of different faiths, most recently the Muslim people.

    Like I said the ad’s message does get lost behind the satire. It is a silly ad, petty, so what exactly is the problem?

    What did the Vatican say, that the ad was “damaging to not only to the dignity of the pope and the Catholic Church but also to the feelings of believers?”

    Do you want to know what is really undignified? And that is that the pope’s dignity, a so-called head of state, is so easily pricked by an ad campaign that is comparable to drawing a mustache on the picture of the pope.

    One has to wonder if there is any real dignity in the Vatican when it cannot weather so sophomoric an ad.

    But imagine if the pope and the Vatican acted even half as fast in addressing the torturing and raping of children by their own priests as they have to this ad, the difference they could have made throughout the world. Imagine!!

    Obviously they care more about the popes dignity than the torturing and raping of children, and the overall marginalization, disenfranchisement, and exploitation of the poor and uneducated that has been the practice of the Catholic church, and all her popes through out their history.

    Now, if you want to talk about an indignity. The pope has no real dignity, so besides the Vatican’s obsessive need to control people, that is the real reason they are concerned with the ad, because the veneer is VERY thin.

    Some have suggested that the feelings of Catholics ought to be considered, but I disagree. Apart from the fact that the Catholic church routinely attacks Muslims, I don’t, myself, feel compelled to consider the feelings of the ordinary man and woman who would continue to support a church, and its leaders that are guilty of heinous crimes against the peoples of the world throughout its history on the Earth, any more than I would consider the feelings of serial rapists and murderers.

    Again, like the popes alleged and inherent dignity, a True faith, one that abides in the heart of a True believer, that falls under the dictates of TRUE Christian love, would not be so easily offended.

    The fact that the pope and the Vatican are so easily provoked is a testament to this fact, that the Catholic church is more of a religious political war machine, fighting, as it ever has, with the current day kings and princes for the domination and blind obedience of the masses.

    Anyone who would defend with their time and their money a church guilty of serial rapes and murders IS NOT deserving of any special consideration. Speaking, myself, as just one of the millions of children was was molested by a priest, neither the pope, the church, nor any Catholic is deserving of special consideration in the light of such a monumental and fundamental failure of their own Christian faith.

    The Bible exhorts the Christian to work out their OWN salvation with fear and trembling. Instead of this ad, maybe they need to concern themselves more with doing that!

  21. Paul R says

    I bet that Benetton is disappointed not to have been sued. Any settlement would have been minimal because the pope is a public figure, all the while giving the company tons of free advertising. Do they even have many US stores anymore?

    The only concern I’d have is running an international campaign like this is due to the enormous variations in free speech, libel, cultural “values,” and other laws across countries.

  22. Liz says

    Man, get over it. It’s two guys kissing—and? So let’s get this straight (pardon the pun)–the Vatican’s fine with priests screwing little boys, but the Pope photoshopped kissing another man is a problem? WTF? Hypocrites. Gotta’ love Catholicism…

  23. johnny says

    The ad agency who came up with this knew perfectly well that it would be controversial and knew that they would end up pulling it. It takes a lot to rise above the sea of ads out there and this did it easily. So, Benetton gets the PR and some name play and it’s on to the next ad campaign. The pope can suck it, who really cares if they threaten?

  24. jack says

    The church threatens to sue over a silly ad “showing” the pope kissing some muslim cleric while at the same time the church is fighting lawsuits brought by men who were sexually abused by priests when they were boys.The church is concerned that the ad will harm the reputation of the papacy and the church. What reputation? Enabler of sexual preditors?

  25. Jeff says

    Love the ad. If it makes people think and talk (even argue), I say let it run for as long as possible…if even via social media (like this site).

  26. Art Voigt says

    Why not “deface” the poop and an asman…

    I-slam-yo-asses and Kat-hole-iks have been murdering every one that they can’t get to bend over for them for centuries.

    I wish they would just kill each other off.
    Who cares if the widdle haters and their protoplasmic excrement are offended.

  27. Mac says

    I just really think its funny how the Vatican’s spokesperson said it “is a grave lack of respect for the pope”. Is he serious? does he know that even in the Catholic Church many of its followers disregard the pope and all the higher ups. Catholics are one of the largest group that supports gay marriage, except when it comes to their clergy. the thing is while the whole time priests preach love, the followers have finally realized the hypocrisy of their leaders, that discrimination isn’t love, that war isn’t love, that pedophilia and rape are most definitely not love. So down with Catholic bureaucracy and hate,and up with Catholic laypersons who show love and acceptance.

  28. yonose says

    It is just what it is, a SIMPLE MARKETING PLOY.

    If it were an honest, fruitful cause for the “unhate” campaign, I should see more famous women who are lesbian, I should see more heterosexual people kissing each other, I should see no problem with famous, prominent trannies and hermaphrodites. Nobody here sould have problems with different sexual orientations, al least not me.

    But of course, Benetton does not want to show how multi-culturalism does not work, they just want to accomplish their marketing ploy as obvious. I’m not homo or bi myself, but I consider that as most of the “unhate” billboard are about homosexual male people, they are not tolerating anyone else as deserved.

    Benetton for me, from now on, is a no no.