The Benetton clothing company is known for shock ads that have stirred controversy around the globe with images of death row inmates and people dying of AIDS. Its latest campaign, unveiled Wednesday, so offended the Vatican that it is taking legal action to prevent the circulation of a doctored image depicting Pope Benedict XVI kissing a leading Muslim imam.
This after the company announced that it was withdrawing the image in response to a protest from the Vatican. In a statement Wednesday, the Benetton Group said the “UNHATE” campaign was designed to “combat hatred” and promote “closeness between peoples, faiths, cultures, and the peaceful understanding of each other’s motivations.”
It features photo montages of world leaders locked in a kiss. President Obama is shown with China’s Hu Jintao and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Benedict was shown with Ahmed Tayeb, leader of Al Azhar in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s most influential institution. The Vatican called the image “offensive not only to the dignity of the Pope and the Catholic Church, but also to the sensibilities of believers.”
In a statement Thursday, the Vatican said it was taking legal action in Italy and abroad to prevent its distribution, including “through the mass media.” (Link in Italian)
Benetton’s ad is annoyingly preachy, and, in its intention to “shock”, depressingly lame. More depressing still, however, is the Vatican’s insistence that “offense” (always that telltale word) to “the sensibilities of believers” is reason enough to suppress the ad’s distribution. We can be sure that other religious groups will appreciate the precedent.