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ROME, February 7, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – On Saturday, Rome woke up to an unusual sight: the city was covered with posters calling out Pope Francis on his lack of “mercy.”

The posters are not a simple prank, but an historical method of reproach known to Romans. In the time of the Papal states, Romans criticized their government – the Pope – lovingly yet with a sharp-tongue on the “Pasquino” statue which is located in a Roman piazza. It is known as the “talking statue” because of the tradition of attaching anonymous criticisms on its base that poke at politicians or famous people, denouncing injustice and misgovernment.

Nevertheless, this expression of concern by the common faithful was denounced by one of the Vatican’s most highly-placed Cardinals, Marc Ouellet, as the “work of the devil.” The Canadian Cardinal, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, commented on the posters on TV for Stanze Vaticane (Vatican Chambers) of the Italian Tgcom24.

The posters, found on the Pasquino and all over Rome, read: “Ah Francis, you have intervened in Congregations, removed priests, decapitated the Order of Malta and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, ignored Cardinals… but where is your mercy?” The posters featured a photo of a cranky looking Pope Francis on his throne wrapped in a thick coat.

While Ouellet himself has expressed opposition to the Kasper proposal, he was severe in his criticism of the common faithful as they expressed their concerns via the poster campaign. “These methods of anonymous manifestation are rather a work of the devil, who wants to divide,” he said. “They are not the methods which should be used in the life of the Church.”

Blogger Hilary White, LifeSite’s former Rome correspondent, had this response for Cardinal Ouellet: “Really? They’re not the methods we’re supposed to use? What would your eminence suggest? Dubia, perhaps? Formally submitted by the lawful authority and in accordance with the requirements of Canon Law? How’s that working out?”

White recalls another expression of the common faithful in Rome when a couple of nights before Pope Benedict XVI abdicated his papacy, a group of Catholics gathered in the piazza at night singing the song “Resta con noi,” meaning “stay with us.”

In the wake of the poster campaign, Vatican communications has been working to get out the message that Pope Francis is not at all perturbed by them. Catholic News Agency reports, “According to Italian news agency ANSA, Pope Francis received the news of the posters with ‘serenity and detachment.’” Similarly, Cardinal Ouellet said of the Pope, “He is a man of government who takes his decision in deep prayer and who lives in peace.”

The ‘serene’ pitch aims to confront leaks from inside the papal residence of Casa Santa Marta that have at various times revealed an ill-tempered Pope Francis when his guard is down. The National Catholic Register's Rome correspondent Ed Pentin quoted Vatican sources in November indicating Pope Francis was “boiling with rage” over the criticism of Amoris Laetitia. Italian newspapers reported during the second Synod on the Family in 2015 that a letter form 13 Cardinals asking clarification from the Pope garnered an angry outburst in which the Pope exclaimed, “If this is the case, they [the 13 cardinals]  can leave. The Church does not need them. I will throw them all out!”

More than rumours however have given rise to the perception of Pope Francis as deserving of the criticism of the poster campaign, namely that he is lacking in mercy.  The frequency of his homilies and talks using harsh and condemning terms for conservatives in the Church may have warmed the hearts of the mainstream media, but they have also hurt faithful Catholics and their children.

John-Henry Westen contributed to this article.

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Jan Bentz, born in Germany, resides in Rome as LifeSiteNews' correspondent. He holds a doctorate in metaphysics and two masters in Ecumenism and Church art. He has been working for television broadcasting and other media outlets for five years, reporting on the Pope and the Vatican.