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Conservative Criticism of Pope Sparks Rally of Support

FILE - Pope Francis greets faithful during his weekly general audience, in the Pope Paul VI hall, at the Vatican, Jan. 18, 2017.

Pope Francis' top advisers are coming to his defense amid an unprecedented wave of conservative criticism that represents the biggest challenge to his mercy-over-morals papacy.

In an unusual gesture, the nine cardinals from around the world who advise Francis on running the church made a public show of support this week after posters featuring a scowling Francis appeared around Rome.

The posters referenced some moves perceived as heavy-handed and asked, "Where's your mercy?"

The Vatican also published a book by the Holy See's top canon lawyer on Tuesday fully endorsing Francis' controversial opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics - the main bone of contention between the pope and traditionalist Catholics.

The book's author, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, said in an interview: "He knows we love him and we are with him."