Religious Groups Blast Madonna

Attack comes just before Sunday gig near Vatican.

Madonna appears to have upset certain religious elements in Italy with her plans to wear a crown of thorns in a crucifixion scene in her concert at Rome's Stadio Olimpico ("Olympic Stadium") on Sunday night (Aug. 6).

The 65,000-capacity stadium is in the same city as the Vatican and local Catholic priests have condemned the show as "close to blasphemy." Local Jewish and Muslim leaders have also expressed their disapproval to the Italian press.

Yet the artist, an Italian-American with a Catholic background does not intend to change her show.

Her Italian concert promoter plays down the controversy. "I must admit that I have yet to see the scenes in question, but I'm sure that there is nothing intentionally blasphemous about them," Roberto De Luca, managing director of Milano Concerti/Live Nation, tells "I'm convinced that Madonna intends to present religion in a positive light. Certainly, we see far worse things on TV and in the newspapers every day."

De Luca is similarly unconcerned about potential negative effects for the concert. "The 65,000 tickets were sold out weeks ago, even though we've managed to put another 850 tickets on sale in the last few days."

Madonna's record label is playing down the episode. "I think this has been seized upon and exploited by a small group of extremists," says Warner Music Italy president and CEO Massimo Giuliano. "I will see the scenes in question for the first time on Sunday, but I'm confident that there's nothing blasphemous about the show."

Nor does Giuliano see any potential negative effects on the artist's record sales. "Confessions on a Dance Floor has gone quadruple platinum in Italy with sales of over 350,000 units, while the CD-DVD double package of I'm Going to Tell You A Secret has sold 80,000 units," he says.

This is not the first time Madonna has clashed with the Catholic Church. Her 1989 video of “Like a Prayer” was criticized by religious groups for featuring, among other things, her seduction of a Christ-like figure.

Vatican representatives have equally questioned the Kabbalah religion she currently practices.