The controversial image, which was hung from a bridge near the holy city early today, shows the Pope embracing Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb, one of Islam's leading figures.
Other images in the campaign, which is part of the Italian firm's support for the Unhate Foundation, show various world leaders kissing on the mouth.www.mannastores.com
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called the unauthorised 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.
Other images in the latest campaign include Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel kissing French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in a clinch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benetton says it hopes the campaign will held contribute towards combating hatred and lead to the creation of a culture of tolerance.
'In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what's going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace that can have positive energy.'
The company is planning a series of live events in which youngsters will post the controversial images on the walls of locations of cities around the world.