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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Wednesday protested to Italian clothing firm Benetton over its use of an image of Pope Benedict kissing an imam on the mouth in its latest shock advertising campaign.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called the unauthorized and "manipulative" use of the pope's picture in the photo montage "totally unacceptable" and suggested it might take legal action against the company.
"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," he said in a statement.
A large banner with the image of the pope and the imam was hung from a bridge near the Vatican on Wednesday morning before it was removed.
Other photo montages in the same campaign, in which Benetton says it supports the Unhate Foundation, show other world leaders kissing each other on the mouth.
President Barack Obama is shown kissing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in one.
The Italian clothing company has run controversial advertising campaigns in the past, including one that showed grieving parents at the bedside of a man dying of AIDS.
Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Andrew Roche