Rome 'unites to condemn Madonna'

Rome, Italy - Religious leaders in Rome have united against the mock-crucifixion featured in US pop star Madonna's latest show.

In the sequence, Madonna appears on a giant cross wearing a crown of thorns.

Father Manfredo Leone of Rome's Santa Maria Liberatrice church told Reuters news agency it was "disrespectful, in bad taste and provocative".

Muslim and Jewish leaders have also raised objections. Madonna performs in Rome on 6 August ahead of six further dates at London's Wembley Arena.

The 47-year-old received similar complaints during the American leg of her Confessions world tour, with one critic accusing her of "blatant insensitivity".

The singer has defended the imagery by saying it forms part of an appeal to her audience to donate to Aids charities.

"Being raised on a cross with a crown of thorns like a modern Christ is absurd," continued Father Leone. "Doing it in the cradle of Christianity comes close to blasphemy."

Mario Scialoja, head of Italy's Muslim League, told Reuters Madonna would "do better to go home", a sentiment echoed by a spokesman for Rome's Jewish community.

Madonna has invited controversy before, notably with her 1989 Like a Prayer video, which featured a black Christ-like figure and burning crosses, and a 1993 tour in which she simulated masturbation on stage.