Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

The plot against the Pope | 12 March 2017

On the first Saturday in February, the people of Rome awoke to find the city covered in peculiar posters depicting a scowling Pope Francis. Underneath were written the words:

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 reference to mercy was a jibe that any Catholic could understand. Francis had just concluded his ‘Year of Mercy’, during which the church was instructed to reach out to sinners in a spirit of radical forgiveness. But it was also a year in which the Argentinian pontiff continued his policy of squashing his critics with theatrical contempt.

Before the Year of Mercy, he had removed (or ‘decapitated’) the leaders of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, apparently for their traditionalist sympathies. During it, he froze out senior churchmen who questioned his plans to allow divorced-and-remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. As the year finished, the papal axe fell on the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, who during an internal row over the alleged distribution of condoms by its charitable arm had robustly asserted the crusader order’s 800-year sovereignty. Francis seized control of the knights. They are sovereign no longer.


Damian Thompson and Dan Hitchens discuss the plot against Pope Francis:


So the sarcasm of asking the Pope about his ‘mercy’ is pretty obvious. But Italians noticed something else. ‘A France’… ma n’do sta la tua misericordia?’ is local dialect — the Romanesco slang in which citizens taunted corrupt or tyrannical popes before the fall of the Papal States in 1870.

Although the stunt made headlines around the world, it is unlikely to have unnerved the Pope. There is a touch of the Peronist street-fighter about Jorge Bergoglio.

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