(ASSOCIATED PRESS) — VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ top advisers are rallying 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 for the pope and his teachings this week after posters featuring a scowling Francis appeared around Rome. The posters referenced some perceived heavy-handed moves against conservatives and asked “Where’s your mercy?”

And on Tuesday, the Vatican published a book by the Holy See’s top canon lawyer fully endorsing Francis’ controversial opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics — the main bone of contention between the pope and conservative and traditionalist Catholics.

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