While the Pope has in the past been depicted as a superhero or peace advocate, this weekend set a much different tone as Rome woke up Saturday to see the walls of the city center plastered with some 200 anti-Pope Francis posters.
However, after hearing about the posters, the Pope himself was reportedly unfazed, and didn’t make a big deal out of the incident.
According to Italian news agency ANSA, Pope Francis received the news of the posters with “serenity and detachment.”
Depicting a dour Pope Francis, the posters read: “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?”
After a short time, many of the posters were covered with signs reading “abusive posting.” The majority of the posters had been taken down by Sunday morning, and as of Monday nary a one was to be seen.
The brief phrase included on the posters was written in “Romanaccio,” or the Roman dialect, and indicates the culprit is someone who comes from more conservative sectors of the Church, many of whom have been in sharp disagreement with the Pope regarding his decisions and ongoing reform of the Curia.
By saying the Pope had “decapitated the Order of Malta,” the author was making a clear reference to the Pope’s recent request for the Order’s former Grand Master, Matthew Festing, to resign while ousted Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager be reinstated.
The reference to taking over congregations and removing priests is likely a reference to recent allegations that Francis had fired three priests from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith with no notice or reason.
On ignoring cardinals, the point was a clear reference to a letter written to Pope Francis in September, asking for clarification on five points – called “dubia” – in Amoris Laetitia. The letter was subsequently published in November, after the Pope did not respond.
The signatories of the letter were American Cardinal Raymond Burke, Patron of the Order of Malta, as well as German Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Joachim Meisner and Italian Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, all of whom are widely considered to sit on the right of the Church.
The reference to the Franciscans of the Immaculate referred to the fact that Francis made some changes to the order early on in his pontificate, restricting their use of the Latin Mass used prior to the Second Vatican Council.
However, while the Pope’s lack of concern over the posters might seem surprising to some, he said in an interview with Italian paper Avvenire in November that he doesn’t “lose sleep” over his critics, and has said on several previous occasions that resistance is a normal part of any reform.
In a lengthy speech to members of the Roman Curia Dec. 22, the Pope outlined three different types of resistance, saying the phenomenon is “normal (and) even healthy.”
He spoke of “open resistance,” which often arises “from good will and sincere dialogue,” but noted that there is also a type of “hidden resistance” that comes from “fearful or petrified hearts content with the empty rhetoric of a complacent spiritual reform.”
These are the people “who verbally say they are ready for change, but want everything to stay as it was before,” he said.
However, the Pope also highlighted a third type of resistance, which he said is a “malicious resistance, which often sprouts in misguided minds and appears when the devil inspires bad intentions.”
This type of resistance, he said, frequently “hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor and the action.”
An absence of a reaction “is the sign of death,” he said, and because of this “good resistances – and even those not as good – are necessary and merit being listened to, welcomed and encouraged to express themselves.”
By Elise Harris