VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials are brushing off a spoof Vatican newspaper mock-up poking fun at Pope Francis that points to increasing conservative criticism of his mercy-over-morals priorities.

The fake L’Osservatore Romano front page has been making the rounds at the same time that hundreds of real anti-pope posters appeared on Roman billboards this past weekend.

The main headline – “He responded!” – refers to Francis’ refusal to respond to four cardinals who publicly asked him to clarify his position on whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Communion. The issue has become the focal point of conservative unease with Francis’ papacy.

The editor-in-chief of the real L’Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian, thanked whoever was responsible for the free publicity.

“We were only sad because the layout wasn’t as nice as ours,” Vian said Friday. In between laughs, he added that it clearly wasn’t a professional job given “the Latin isn’t the Latin of the Curia.”

The tongue-in-cheek content was similar to a sarcastic YouTube video that takes aim at Francis on the divorce-remarriage issue.

Both were humorous, whereas the anonymous posters that appeared on Roman billboards Saturday morning struck a more serious tone: They asked Francis “Where is your mercy?” and referred to some heavy-handed initiatives that he’s taken against conservatives or traditional Catholics.

The posters featuring a sour-faced pope – many of which are still up a week later – cited Francis’ recent “decapitation” of the Knights of Malta religious order, as well as the cardinals he had “ignored” in refusing to clarify the divorce-remarriage question.

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