Italian clothing company Benetton’s latest foray into multiculturalism, this time with interfaith overtones, has landed the retailer in hot holy water with the Vatican.

In a blatant bid to stay relevant while broadcasting a shock-inducing message of love in the time of globalization, Benetton launched an ad campaign Wednesday with the word “UNHATE” emblazoned on images of a host of world leaders in Photoshopped lip locks, including Barack Obama smooching Chinese President Hu Jintao, French President Nicolas Sarkozy interfacing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI kissing Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb. The Holy See quickly shut down the staged pope-imam lovefest by threatening legal action, and the offending image disappeared from the Web and the walls of several European cities later that day.

A predictable turn of events coming from the ever-vigilant Vatican, but perhaps most shocking is that people have apparently still been shopping at Benetton since it peaked somewhere around 1987. –KA

CBS News:

Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi called the ad an “unacceptable” manipulation of the pope’s likeness that offended the religious sentiments of the faithful.

“It shows a serious lack of respect for the pope,” Lombardi said in a statement that warned that the Vatican was studying measures to protect the pontiff’s image.

[…] Benetton said the photos of political and religious leaders kissing were “symbolic images of reconciliation — with a touch of ironic hope and constructive provocation — to stimulate reflection on how politics, faith and ideas, when they are divergent and mutually opposed, must still lead to dialogue and mediation.”

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