Rome’s police are on the hunt for unknown anti-pope plotters

Italian police were on Monday on the hunt for the authors of anti-pope posters which have been slapped around Rome, amid suspicions the campaign may be linked to an arch-conservative wing of the Catholic Church.

Rome's police are on the hunt for unknown anti-pope plotters
A woman walks past one of the offending posters. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Dozens of the illegal fliers appeared mysteriously around the Italian capital Saturday picturing a stern-looking Pope Francis, a list of accusations against him, and the words “Where's your mercy?” – turning the pontiff's call for a more merciful church back on him.

Police were trawling through security camera footage to track down the culprits as Rome city council said it had pulled down 200 posters while those remaining had been covered up.

No group took credit for the stunt, but Vatican watchers said the fact the main complaint referred to the “decapitation” of the Knights of Malta made it likely they came from conservative quarters.

The posters appeared on the same day that Francis appointed his own special delegate to the ancient aristocratic order, after stepping in to stop the firing of its Grand Chancellor, in a move that left traditionalists spitting.

The move publicly sidelined prominent US conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has been outspoken in his disapproval of Francis' efforts to reform Church teaching on questions related to the family, marriage and divorce.

“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?” it reads.

'Germs of selfishness'

The reference to the pope ignoring cardinals is believed to relate to four cardinals, including Burke, who sent a letter to Francis at the end of last year in which they challenged the head of the Roman Catholic Church over his teachings on the family.

Burke publicly warned Francis in November it may be necessary to make a highly rare “formal act of correction” if the Argentine did not answer the letter – a bold and almost unheard of challenge to his authority.

The mention of the removal of priests likely refers to allegations that the pope ordered the sacking of prelates from a Vatican department. In terms of the Franciscans, the pope intervened in the religious order early on to restrict the use of Latin mass, said.

The 80-year old pontiff, who was elected in 2013, has proved a divisive figure, hailed by some for his “progressive” attitude – refusing to judge those guilty of church sins, such as single mothers and gay people – but criticized by others for being too “liberal”.

The climate in the tiny Vatican city state has become increasingly acrimonious and watchers warn of a possible show-down with the conservatives. Francis said at the end of last year that he was “not losing any sleep” over the in-fighting.

On Sunday he made no reference to the posters but called on the faithful to stay away from “polluting germs of selfishness, envy, slander”.

The poster was written in local dialect. The Italian capital has a long tradition of anonymous political expression; protest graffiti was used in ancient Rome and, from the 16th century onwards, criticisms in the form of poems or witticisms were strung up on well-known statues in the city.

By Ella Ide

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 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.