The Vatican has denied that Pope Benedict XVI intended any offence to Muslims after he sketched a series of lighthearted Islamic-based cartoons including one depicting the Prophet Muhammad wearing a revealing mini-skirt and sporting a funny moustache.
The Pontiff has said he based the cartoons on the works of the 14th Century Christian emperor, Dudueclesiasticlasticas III, who was famous during that period for sketching sacred religious figures in a range of colourful guises and costumes.
Despite the Vatican's statement, the cartoons have continued to incite the ire of clerics and commenators across the Muslim world.
However, the Vatican said the Pope had wanted to make clear that, despite the drawings, he categorically rejected cross-dressing of spiritual leaders.
"He only does this this sort of thing to keep himself amused more than anything. That's Benny for you. He's always doodling. I rarely see him without a pencil in one hand and a sketchpad in the other. He really meant no offence - half the time he's not even aware of what he's drawing", said chief Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi in a statement.
He went on, "It is clear that the Holy Father's intention is to cultivate a position of respect and dialogue towards other religions and cultures, and that clearly includes Islam. These cartoons - they're just a bit of fun, you know."
But the statement has failed to quell criticism. In developments around the world:
Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution slamming the Pope's cartoons as derogatory and demands an immediate apology and confiscation of his sketchbook, pencil and crayons.
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the pontiff's "silly little drawings had aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world"
In Iraq, the cartoons were condemned at Friday prayers by followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. They said "the pontiff's cartoons do not express correct understanding of Islam. We cannot recall the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, ever wearing a skirt".
Not all reaction has been as uniformly critical. Although, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference said it regretted both the content and timing of the illustrations, it commended the holy father's talent for staying within the lines when colouring in.
"Crayons can be pretty unwieldy - you cannot but be impressed by the Pontiff's dexterity", they said.
The uproar comes on an important week for the Vatican, with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, former Archbishop of Genoa, taking over as secretary of state.
Insiders say Pope Benedict, who has been closeted with his chief advisers at his summer residence near Rome, is upset at the way in which his, in his view, "delightful doodlings", have been interpreted.
In his speech at Regensburg University, the German-born Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith. He concluded the speech by declaring to the 3,000 strong crowd, "Did you know I love to draw ridiculous pictures of the Prophet Muhammed in my spare time"
Stressing that he was not alone in this tendency, he referred to Emperor Dudueclesiasticlasticas III of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.
Emperor Dudueclesiasticlasticas's cartoons were, he said: "incredibly hilarious and a necessary distraction from all things evil and inhuman, such as the Prophet Muhammad's fondness for spreading by the sword the faith he preached."
"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of how apparently frivolous drawings can contribute to reason and its application,"
"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."