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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Madonna takes cross show to Rome
Madonna performs on a pole during her gig at the Olympic Stadium, Rome
Madonna invited Pope Benedict to personally attend her performance
Madonna has staged a mock-crucifixion during a concert in Rome, where religious leaders earlier condemned the element of her current show.

The pop star says the section of her Confessions show when she wears a crown of thorns and is raised on a cross is part of an appeal for Aids charities.

But Father Manfredo Leone of Rome's Santa Maria Liberatrice church said it was "disrespectful" and "in bad taste".

Muslim and Jewish leaders in the city have also raised objections.

About 70,000 fans attended at the concert in Rome's Olympic Stadium.

During the controversial section - which has been included from the outset of the tour in May - the singer is suspended from the wire cross as she performs the song Live to Tell.

The two-and-a-half hour show also included images of the Pope cut with photos of the former Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

Challenge to the faith

One Roman Madonna fan, 39-year-old Tonia Valerio, told the Reuters news agency the crucifixion was "unnecessary and provocative," but added that the singer is also "an icon, and that balances out her need to provoke".

Madonna on a mirrored cross during a performance on the Confessions tour
The cross segment has been criticised in most countries on the tour
Vatican Cardinal Ersilio Tonino, who spoke with the approval of the Pope, called the concert "a blasphemous challenge to the faith" and a "profanation of the cross".

He also called for Madonna, who was raised as a Catholic, to be excommunicated.

Meanwhile, Mario Scialoja, the head of Italy's Muslim League, has said that including the cross segment is "in the worst taste" and said the star would "do better to go home."

And Riccardo Pacifici, vice president of the Roman Jewish community, said she should have cut the routine because of the close proximity of the Olympic Stadium to the Vatican.

Madonna's New York-based spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, denied that the star's performance was insulting.

"The context of Madonna's performance on the crucifix is not negative nor disrespectful toward the church," she said.

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