The Vatican has said it will resort to legal action to stop clothing retailer Benetton's advertisement with a photographic montage of Pope Benedict XVI kissing a noted Egyptian imam on the mouth.
A large banner with the image of the pope and Egypt's Grand Sheikh of the Al-Azhar Mosque Mohammad Ahmed Al Tayeb hung from a bridge near the Vatican Wednesday, later to be removed.
Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone "is examining the steps that may be taken with the competent authorities in order to guarantee adequate protection for the figure of the Holy Father," Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. said in a statement.
Benetton at times uses shocking images involving social issues to stir interest in its sweaters and other merchandise.
The Ponzano, Italy-based company had said its "Unhate" campaign used "symbolic images of reconciliation - with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation - to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, even when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation."
Late Wednesday it pledged to scrap the advertisement with the pope, one of a series of doctored photos depicting world leaders kissing each other on the mouth.
"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," Lombardi said.
Other images show kisses between US president Barack Obama and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Obama and China's President Hu Jintao and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu locking lips with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.