VATICAN CITY Italian animal rights campaigners are urging Pope Benedict to stop wearing ermine on his hats and robes, appealing to his reputation as a cat lover.
The Italian Association for Defense of Animals and the Environment, which has a white bunny logo, has started an online petition signed by nearly 1,900 people asking the German-born pontiff to stop wearing fur. Corriere della Sera newspaper had photos Benedict and one of his predecessors, Pope John XIII, wearing an ermine-trimmed hat and cape. It put the shots next to a picture of a live stoat.
Ermine is the white winter fur of the stoat, which has been used to trim the crowns, ceremonial hats and robes of European royalty, aristocrats, judges and popes for centuries.
The pope wore the fur-trimmed hat and cape before pilgrims around Christmas in 2005, giving him the look of Santa Claus and delighting well-wishers and photographers alike.
But the petition appealed not to the pope's fashion sense, but to his reputation as an animal lover, which has even prompted an authorized biography of the pope narrated by a cat.
Published last year, "Chico and Joseph" is based on a real cat called Chico who took up with the pope in his native Germany when he was plain Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The cat belongs to the caretakers of the house where Ratzinger lived before moving to Rome in 1981. As a cardinal in Rome, the future pope befriended another cat he found on the street and kept it in his apartment until being elected pope.
Petitioners gave their reasons for signing on the website: here
"The pope has a cat he loves a lot, so why doesn't he use it for one of his capes?" wrote one of the petitioners, who signed as Sergio Porcelli from Ercolano, near Naples.
The pope's fashion sense has come under light-hearted media scrutiny, with Esquire magazine naming 81-year-old Benedict "accessorizer of the year" in 2007 for red leather loafers it said were made by Prada -- which the Vatican newspaper denied.
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Michael Winfrey)