Vatican, Benetton reach out-of-court settlement over kissing-pope ad

VATICAN CITY - The Vatican and the Italian fashion house Benetton reached an out-of-court settlement after the Vatican took legal action against an ad campaign that depicted Pope Benedict XVI kissing a Muslim leader.

The settlement included the fashion company making an unspecified donation to a Catholic charity and a promise to stop the image from being used by third parties, including being displayed on the Internet, according to a Vatican statement May 15.

The campaign, titled "Unhate," was unveiled Nov. 16 and featured doctored images of supposedly antagonistic world leaders in kissing scenes.

One of the images was of Pope Benedict embracing Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, president of al-Azhar University in Cairo, who had announced the suspension of dialogue with the Vatican in 2011. A large poster of the image had been hung not far from the Vatican, at the bridge of Castel Sant'Angelo.

The Vatican issued a strong protest the same day, condemning the "completely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in the context of a publicity campaign for commercial ends."

Shortly afterward, the company withdrew the image from circulation and the website of the Unhate Foundation.

The Vatican then took legal action against the Benetton Group to block the doctored image's continued circulation, including in the mass media, in Italy and in other countries.

The case was concluded in mid-May, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said in a written statement May 15.

"The Holy See didn't want to ask for financial compensation, but instead wished to obtain moral compensation by (Benetton) recognizing the harm caused and to assert its determination to protect, even though legal means, the image of the pope," Father Lombardi said.

The Vatican spokesman said that while the Vatican did not seek financial damages, Benetton agreed to the Vatican's request that the fashion house make a "limited but effective" donation to the Catholic Church's charitable work.

Benetton issued an apology May 11, reiterating its dismay for having "upset the feelings of His Holiness Benedict XVI and the faithful."

The company promised that all photographic images of the pope have been withdrawn from company publications and circulation, that it will "not use any images of the pope in the future without prior authorization from the Holy See" and that it will use "its good offices to stop further use of the altered photo by third parties on Internet sites or elsewhere."

An Internet image search May 15 produced tens of thousands of postings, many by news sites, of the campaign's altered image of the pope.

The Vatican said the legal matter was now closed and that it was hoped a lesson could be learned from this "most unpleasant incident" about the importance of "the due respect for the image of the pope, likewise of every other person, and for the feelings of the faithful."

Other images in the campaign portray U.S. President Barack Obama kissing Chinese leader Hu Jintao and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embracing Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970