21:37 GMT19 January 2021
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    Posters plastered across Rome Friday night asked Pope Francis "Where's your mercy?"

    The posters, written in what Deutsche Welle describes as a working-class dialect unique to Rome, accuse the pope of antagonizing Catholic conservatives and the "beheading of the Knights of Malta."

    "Ah Francis, you've taken over congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… but where's your mercy?" the posters read, under a picture of a frowning Francis.

    The Knights of Malta were first recognized in the 12th century; now, the conservative order runs a vast humanitarian operation across the globe. According to the Catholic news website Crux, the Knights of Malta have 13,500 members and some 100,000 staff and volunteers. They maintain bilateral relations with 106 countries, have United Nations permanent observer status, and issue their own passports, currency and postage stamps, printed with the Maltese cross.

    Now, their grand master has resigned after a public standoff with Pope Francis over, of all things, condoms.

    The saga begins in 2013, when as part of charitable work the order was doing in Myanmar, condoms were handed out as a way to prevent the spread of HIV. Albrecht Boeselager, who was health minister of the order when the distribution took place, said he didn't know about the condom distribution when it started and stopped it when he did. Boeselager went on to become Grand Chancellor of the order — and when the news came out that impoverished Burmese had gotten their hands on condoms because of him a few years ago, he refused to resign. So the order sacked him.

    That caught Pope Francis's attention. The pope ordered an inquiry into whether Boeselager's firing was legal, the order called the inquiry "irrelevant," and last week, Grand Master Matthew Festing resigned at the request of the pope, DW reports.

    Now the Vatican has announced a personal emissary of the pope will be delegated to the order, bypassing pope-critic Cardinal Raymond Burke, the order's chaplain.

    Amid all this, conservative Catholics feel under attack. This pope is too socially permissive for some, with his advice to priests not to judge or discriminate against divorced or remarried Catholics and to use "discernment" in whether to offer the sacrament of Communion to divorced parishioners.

    ("I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak," he wrote in last year's lengthy document on the church's position on family life).

    The posters also said Francis had "ignored cardinals," referring to four cardinals who have publicly asked the pope to clearly state whether divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion. The pope has so far not answered their query.

    The posters have been papered over with sheets calling them "illegal postings," as they were put up without paying tax or receiving authorization.

    Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, at least, doesn't seem phased by the posters. He tweeted that they're a sign the pope is "doing well and causing A LOT of annoyance. 

    These aren't the first posters critical of a pope, even this pope, to appear in Rome's streets, Crux pointed out. The Vatican has not so far expressed concern.


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