"The advert is deeply offensive to millions of Catholics" was the main objection coming from the Vatican. What advert? The offensive billboard displayed throughout Italy and beyond depicts Pope Benedict on a golf links wearing a striped tee-shirt and tartan knickerbockers.
We see him waving his putter in the air and leaping for joy as the ball is about to drop into the hole at the 12th. In the background is his golfing partner disgraced Prime Minister Berlusconi glaring in fury as he is comforted by his caddy, a leggy, big-chested blonde in a bikini. That is not all; the caption reads; "Heaven or bust!" The words are made up of lit candles and superimposed on a roulette wheel that shows the roulette ball in the number 12 slot. This ad is the talk of Europe.
Benetton are very pleased by that, as their sportswear sales have rocketed. The Holy See however is not amused. It has sued both Benetton and Italy's biggest paper Il Messagero, the former for creating and distributing the ad, the latter for running with a front page spread on a heated conversation between Cardinal Rob Des Pauvres, representing the Vatican's legal department and assistant director of Benetton, Lodzo Denario.
Here are some extracts of the conversation between Denario and Des Pauvres, which the Cardinal believed at the time was in strict confidence and not being recorded.
C: His Holiness is deeply offended by this defamatory advert.
D: We simply represented him as a man.
C: He has never played golf in his life! His Holiness works non-stop for the world's salvation.
D: Your Eminence! Nobody is holier than J.K.Rowling. Every Potter fan knows that. She inspired the papal knickerbockers!
C: Idolater! Millions of Catholics are offended by this blasphemous image of yours!
D: If I stand outside a vegetarian restaurant chewing a hamburger and everybody inside is offended, is that my fault?
C: He is the religious leader of millions. He represents something bigger than himself.
D: So does Alexandre Pato.
D: AC Milan's centre forward.
C: Your use of symbolism and that - that disgusting caption - "Heaven or Bust!"! It is clear what they refer to. The implication is that we can get into heaven by following the twelve commandments. That's what it says. Do not deny it!
D: Isn't that what you sell - er, I mean, preach?
C: Admission to heaven is by an act of Grace. That is what we preach.
D: Then, what's with the liturgy, penance, retreats, fasts, confession, good works, Opus Dei, Trappist monks, pilgrimages - nuns, chastity - ?
C: I have no time for this argument. You will remove this piece - of - diabolical crappolo or we will sue your company for every penny you have.
D: Sue! The Pope is a man like any other and we can prove in court.
C: You have also made a clear reference to gambling. Does His Holiness gamble too?
D: No. But his bank does. On the stock exchange. Day and night. Big shares in steel corporations I believe. Isn't that what bombs are made of? Not to mention heavenly holdings in oil and weapons magnates Shell, General Electric and Rolls Royce?
C: You have also associated our Pope Benedict with disgraced Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
D: Throughout his period of office Berlusconi has been a strong defender of the Holy See.
C: His Holiness denounced Berlusconi's morals in a public address.
D: He denounced immoral behavior by those in public office; but did not name Berlusconi. His Holiness knows who his friends are.
C: You will be hearing from us Denario. (Exit)
D: (reaching for phone): Isabella! No more friggin' cardinals are to be allowed into my office!