Pope Francis speaks out against 'insults'

Pope Francis waves to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's square during his Sunday Angelus prayer on February 12, 2017 at the Vatican (AFP Photo/Vincenzo PINTO)
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Vatican City (AFP) - Pope Francis on Sunday criticised the everyday use of "insults", an apparent reference to anonymous attacks he has faced over the last week in Rome.

In his weekly Angelus address, Francis highlighted Jesus' commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," saying the edict applied not only to actual homicide, "but also to those behaviours which offend the dignity of the human person, including insulting words."

"Certainly, these injurious words do not have the same gravity and do not lead to the same verdict of guilt as homicide, but they are placed on the same level because they are the premise of more serious acts and reveal the same malevolence," he said.

Francis may have been referring to criticism he has received this past week, as well as tensions over the manoeuvring of conservatives opposed to his reforms of Church teaching and governance.

"We are used to insults," he said. "It is like saying, 'Good morning'."

But "who insults his brother kills that brother in his heart," the pontiff added.

On February 4, Romans woke up to more than 200 posters of a stern-faced pope plastered all over the city, with a caption asking in Italian, "But where is your mercy?"

The unidentified posters accused Francis of having "ignored cardinals" and "decapitated the Order of Malta" -- references to a bitter dispute between the order and the Vatican that sidelined a conservative cardinal.

The day after the incident, the pope called on pilgrims during the Angelus prayer to stay far away from "the polluting germs of ego, envy, and slander".

But the attacks did not end there.

At the end of last week, he was the subject of a fake front page news story fashioned in the same style as the Vatican's official newspaper, which was sent to numerous cardinals and bishops.

Under the guise of satire, the story purported to be an interview with the pope where he gave very evasive answers to questions on Church doctrine.

In the spoof interview, Francis is said to have finally answered questions submitted by four ultra-conservative cardinals seeking to clarify the Church's position on giving communion to divorced and now-remarried Catholics.

After Francis did not respond directly to their questions, the cardinals made them public.

But the 80-year-old has shrugged off the criticisms and in-fighting.

In a November interview released Thursday by the Jesuit-run magazine Civilita Cattolica, the pontiff joked that he was not on tranquilisers and wasn't losing any sleep over conservatives opposed to his Church reforms and "corruption" in the Vatican.