VATICAN CITY —Conservative criticism of Pope Francis intensified Saturday after his intervention in the Knights of Malta order, with posters appearing around Rome citing his actions against conservative Catholics and asking: “Where’s your mercy?”

The posters appeared on the same day that Francis cemented his authority over the Knights by naming a top Vatican archbishop, Angelo Becciu, to be his special delegate to the ancient aristocratic order.

Francis gave Becciu, the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, “all necessary powers” to help lay the groundwork for a new constitution for the order, lead the spiritual renewal of its professed knights and prepare for the election of a new grand master, expected in three months.

The Vatican’s intervention with the sovereign group had provided fuel for Francis’ conservative critics, who until Saturday had for the most part largely confined their concern with his mercy-over-morals papacy to blogs, interviews and conferences.

On Saturday, dozens of posters appeared around Rome featuring a stern-looking Francis and referencing the “decapitation” of the Knights and other actions he has taken against tradition-minded groups.

Within hours, the city of Rome had plastered over the posters. Police launched an investigation into the conservative circles believed responsible, aided by closed-circuit cameras, the ANSA news agency said.

The posters, written in Roman dialect, also cited the way Francis had “ignored cardinals,” a reference to the four cardinals who have publicly asked him to clarify whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion.