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Alfredo Ottaviani

His Eminence
Alfredo Ottaviani
Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Ottaviani in October 1958.
Appointed 9 February 1966
Term ended 8 January 1968
Predecessor Giuseppe Pizzardo
Successor Franjo Šeper
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Santa Maria in Domnica
Ordination 18 March 1916
Consecration 19 April 1962
by Pope John XXIII
Created Cardinal 12 January 1953
by Pope Pius XII
Rank Cardinal-Deacon (1953-1967)
Cardinal-Priest (1967-1979)
Personal details
Born (1890-10-29)29 October 1890
Rome, Italy
Died 3 August 1979(1979-08-03) (aged 88)
Rome, Italy
Buried San Salvatore in Ossibus Church, Vatican City
Nationality Italian
Denomination Roman Catholic
  • Enrico Ottaviani
  • Palmira Catalini
Previous post
  • Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica (1953-1967)
  • Pro-Secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office (1953-1959)
  • Secretary of the Congregation of the Holy Office (1959-1966)
  • Titular Archbishop of Berrhoea (1962)
  • Semper Idem
  • (Always the Same)
Coat of arms }
Ottaviani (second from right) at the signing of the Reichskonkordat

Alfredo Ottaviani (29 October 1890 – 3 August 1979) was an Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, of which he was Pro-Prefect until 1968.

Ottaviani was a prominent figure in the Church during his time and was the leading conservative voice at the Second Vatican Council.


  • Early life 1
  • Holy Office/Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith 2
    • Vatican II 2.1
    • Papal conclave 1963 2.2
    • Work and retirement from Curia 2.3
  • Impacts and influences 3
    • Karl Rahner, S.J. 3.1
    • "Ottaviani Intervention" 3.2
    • Ecclesiastical procedure in cases of solicitation 3.3
    • Forbidden books 3.4
      • Saint Faustina Kowalska 3.4.1
      • Maria Valtorta 3.4.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

Ottaviani was born in Rome; his father was a baker. He studied with the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Trastevere, at the Pontifical Roman Seminary and the Pontifical Roman Athenaeum S. Apollinare, from where he received his doctorates in philosophy, theology, and canon law. He was ordained to the priesthood on 18 March 1916.

Holy Office/Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith

Arms of Cardinal Ottaviani

On 12 January 1953, he was both appointed Pro-Secretary of the Holy Office and created Cardinal-Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica by Pope Pius XII. He participated as a cardinal-elector in the 1958 conclave which elected Pope John XXIII.

On 7 November 1959, he was named the Vatican's chief doctrinal guardian as Secretary of the Holy Office. Cardinal Ottaviani was appointed Titular Archbishop of Berrhoea on 5 April 1962, receiving his episcopal consecration on the following 19 April from Pope John XXIII himself, with Cardinals Giuseppe Pizzardo and Benedetto Aloisi Masella serving as co-consecrators. (His episcopal motto was Semper idem ("Always the same"), which reflected his conservative theology.) He later resigned his titular see in 1963.

Vatican II

Ottaviani was the leader of the curial conservatives during the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), despite being nearly blind throughout the entire course of the Second Vatican Council and afterwards. At the Council Ottaviani worked with, amongst others, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, CSSp. During the last of the Council's preparatory sessions, Cardinal Ottaviani engaged in a heated debate with Cardinal Augustin Bea over the subject of religious liberty.[1] Ottaviani, while opposed to the separation of Church and State and granting equal rights to all religions, supported religious tolerance—suppressing public manifestations of non-Catholic religions when possible. Their confrontation became so intense that Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini had to intervene, noting his disappointment at such a "serious discussion". Ottaviani also argued during the debates on the liturgy[2][3] and on the sources of Divine Revelation,[4] which are understood as Scripture and Tradition in Catholic theology.

During the Council the news media often went to Ottaviani for colorful reactions to stormy working sessions. In one speech at the Council, reacting to repeated mentions of "collegiality" of bishops, Ottaviani pointed out that the Bible only records one example of the apostles acting collegially - at the Garden of Gethsemane when "They all fled."[5]

Ottaviani was opposed in his movements for a rapid Council by German Cardinal Josef Frings of Cologne. Frings often clashed with Ottaviani on which direction the Council should take. In this, he was assisted by "a [then] progressive firebrand"[5] who was "dissatisfied with many of the answers offered by the Church's official authorities",[5] a young theological advisor named Father Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then Pope Benedict XVI.[5] Frings had heard a lecture of the young Fr. Ratzinger on issues the upcoming Council could address. It seemed to Frings that Ratzinger had set forth a complete agenda for the Council that was exactly what Frings himself had in mind. Frings had Ratzinger prepare the text of a lecture that Frings was to give in Rome. After the lecture, which Pope John XXIII complimented warmly, Frings told the Pope that he did not deserve credit for the speech, as it was written by one of his priests. Pope John admitted that he too delegated much of his work. The key thing was to select the right person for the job. After this conversation, Ratzinger became Frings's lead assistant during the entire Council and thereafter never left Frings's service.[6]

The acrimony felt by such liberal members of the Council against Ottaviani spilled out into international news in an dramatic incident on November 8, 1963, which Protestant observer Robert MacAfee Brown described as having "blown the dome off St. Peter's": in a working session of the Council, Frings declared Ottaviani's dicastery a "source of scandal" to the whole world.[5]

With continued world-wide interest in Vatican II, another internal matter concerning the proceedings of the Council concerning Ottaviani found its way into international news. During the October 30, 1962 session concerning changes to the Mass, he went beyond the 10-minute limit imposed on all speakers. Upon Octtaviani passing this mark Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the Council Presidents showed his watch to the council president for the day Cardinal Bernard Alfrink of Utrecht (whom the Associated Press described as "one of the most outspoken members...who want to see far-reaching changes inside the church."[7]). Ottaviani engrossed in his topic went on condemning the proposed changes, saying "Are we seeking to stir up wonder, or perhaps scandal, among the Christian people, by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved for so many centuries and is now so familiar? The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation."[8] When he had reached fifteen minutes Alfrink rang a warning bell. When Ottaviani kept speaking, Alfrink signalled to a technician who switched off the microphone. After tapping the microphone to determine it was off, the half-blind Ottaviani stumbled back to his seat in humiliation while "there was scattered applause in the council hall" by members of the Council Fathers who held that he had gone on too long.[7][8]

Scandalized by the reaction of his fellow Council Fathers, Ottaviani boycotted the next six council working sessions. When Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini of Palermo presided over the November 11 session he announced that "Ottaviani had been grieved by the Oct. 30 incident" and asked Council Fathers to refrain from voicing approval or disapproval with applause. The Associated Press noted that "Ironically, the incident...[was] favorably commented on by the non-Catholic observers attending the council, who were struck by the Democratic process and freedom of expression at the council".[7] As he was president of the Theological Commission responsible for amending the schema on sources of religion, Ottaviani returned to the working session to champion the position of those the Associated Press called "the static traditionalists".[7]

Papal conclave 1963

Cardinal Ottaviani was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 1963 papal conclave, which selected Giovanni Battista Montini as Pope Paul VI. He was also the Protodeacon (senior Cardinal-Deacon) during the conclave, and as such, he had the honour of announcing Montini's election and crowning him on 30 June with the triregnum.

Work and retirement from Curia

Upon the changing of the name of the Holy Office to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1965, Ottaviani was named Pro-Prefect of the congregation; the pope held the title of "Prefect" until 1968. He was raised to the rank of Cardinal-Priest (with the same title) on 26 June 1967. As Pro-Prefect Ottaviani had described himself as "a policeman who guarded traditional doctrine and theology."[9]

On Jan 8, 1968 Ottaviani resigned from the church's central administration. Pope Paul VI accepted the resignation and appointed Cardinal Franjo Seper of Yugoslavia to take his place as Pro-Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The event was seen as "a major turning point" by the Associated Press, noting he was being replaced "by a prelate from a Communist country that once imprisoned a Catholic cardinal...In dramatic fashion it signified the move of the half-billion-member church away from rigid conservatism toward new experiments in modernism and changing relations with Communist countries."[9]

At the beginning of 1971, when the age restriction (under 80 to participate in a conclave) took effect, Ottaviani lost the right to participate in future conclaves because he had already reached age 80. He died on August 3, 1979.

Impacts and influences

Karl Rahner, S.J.

At the beginning of 1962, Cardinal Ottaviani notified the Jesuit superiors of theologian Karl Rahner that Rahner had been placed under Roman pre-censorship. That meant that the prolific theology professor could no longer publish or lecture without permission. A few months later, in November 1962, Pope John XXIII appointed Rahner to be peritus (an expert advisor) to and at the Second Vatican Council. Since Rahner accompanied the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Franz König, as a theological consultant, Cardinal Ottaviani did not throw Rahner out of the Council in spite of the earlier silencing.[10]

"Ottaviani Intervention"

On 25 September 1969, Ottaviani and Cardinal Antonio Bacci wrote a letter to Paul VI in support of a study by a group of theologians who under the direction of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre criticized the new Order of Mass (in Latin, novus Ordo Missae), and the new General Instruction (in Latin, Institutio Generalis), two sections (in not quite definitive form) of the revision of the Roman Missal that was promulgated on 3 April of that year but that actually appeared in full only in 1970. This letter became widely known as the "Ottaviani Intervention" and is often appealed to by Traditionalist Catholics as support for their opposition to the revision of the Roman Rite Mass.[11]

Ecclesiastical procedure in cases of solicitation

In 1962, as head, under the Pope, of the Holy Office, Ottaviani signed its document known by its incipit Crimen sollicitationis, which had as subtitle On the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of the Crime of Solicitation. It laid down detailed rules about the procedure for ecclesiastical tribunals to follow if a priest was accused of making sexual advances connected in any way with the sacrament of Confession.[12] Judges and other officials of the tribunal ("each and everyone pertaining to the tribunal in any way") would be subject to automatic excommunication if they revealed anything about the conduct of the trial, even after the verdict had been declared and put into effect.[13] This penalty did not apply to accusers and other witnesses;[14] on the contrary, anyone with knowledge of the crime who failed to denounce it within one month was subject to automatic excommunication and could be absolved only after actually denouncing the priest or at least promising seriously to do so.[15] Violation of secrecy by the accused was also punished not by excommunication but by suspension.[16]

In 2003, 24 years after Cardinal Ottaviani's death, media reports presented this document as an attempt to "hide sexual abuse".[17][18] Some reported that even accusers were subjected to excommunication if they made their accusations known, and that the document was stored in the [22] and the punishments laid down in canon law were: "He is to be suspended from celebrating Mass and hearing sacramental confessions and, if the gravity of the crime calls for it, he is to be declared unfit for hearing them; he is to be deprived of all benefices and ranks, of the right to vote or be voted for, and is to be declared unfit for all of them, and in more serious cases he is to be reduced to the lay state."[23] These punishments were of public character and not subject to secrecy.

Forbidden books

As Secretary of the Holy Office, Ottaviani was responsible for the banning of a number of books, which would accordingly have been included in any new edition of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books). The Index, the last edition of which had been published in 1948, was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966.

Saint Faustina Kowalska

On 6 March 1959, the Holy Office issued a notification that forbade circulation of "images and writings that promote devotion to Divine Mercy in the forms proposed by Sister Faustina" (emphasis in the original).[24] Sister Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun who in her diary recounted conversations with Jesus Christ.[25] The negative judgement of the Holy Office was based on reasons that included its use of a faulty French[25] or Italian[26] translation of the diary. However, it was with Cardinal Ottaviani's approval that Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków began in 1965 the informative process on Faustina's life and virtues,[25][26] and the ban on her work was reversed by Pope Paul VI in 1978.[26]

Maria Valtorta

Ottaviani was critical of the writings of the bed-ridden Italian mystic Maria Valtorta, who reported visions of Jesus and Mary.

When the typed version of the 15,000 handwritten pages of Valtorta's notebooks was prepared by Father Romualdo Migliorini and Father Corrado Berti (both Servite priests), they sought Vatican guidance for procedural advice on presenting the reputed revelations to the proper ecclesiastical hierarchy, as the local bishop’s (Fontevecchia) vision was fading. At the Vatican they encountered Monsignor Alphonso Carinci and Cardinal Augustin Bea, Pope Pius XII's confessor, who advised presenting the typed manuscript directly to Pope Pius XII, through a recommended intermediary, which was accomplished in 1947. Ten months later, Monsignor Carinci and Cardinal Bea facilitated a meeting between the Servite priests and Pope Pius XII and it was recorded in L'Osservatore Romano.[27]

Valtorta's notebooks were to be published as a book called "Poem of the Man God". Cardinal Bea was impressed with the book and later wrote that he found "Poem of the Man God" to be "not only interesting and pleasing, but truly edifying".[28]

During the papal audience, Pope Pius XII reportedly said: "Publish this work as it is. There is no need to give an opinion about its origin, whether it be extraordinary or not. Who reads it, will understand."[29] Father Berti signed an affidavit to this effect, stating that he had a verbal papal approval. However, once he approached the Vatican Press, he was summoned to the Holy Office, was seriously rebuked, and the Holy Office attempted to confiscate the original copies of Valtorta's writings.[30]

While Pope Pius XII was alive, Ottaviani (who was then Pro-Prefect at the Holy Office) took no action against "Poem of the Man God" or Maria Valtorta, but ordered Father Berti to silence. A year after the death of Pius XII, Ottaviani placed the work among the list of books he presented to the newly appointed Pope John XXIII, who signed the decree banning all the books on the list.[31]

Years later, Cardinals Bea and Ottaviani were to disagree once again, at the Second Vatican Council, on more wide ranging issues.[32]


  1. ^ SSPX. The Role of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X in the Heart of the Church January 1982
  2. ^ Time Magazine. The Cardinal's Setback November 23, 1962
  3. ^ EWTN. What Went Wrong With Vatican II 1998
  4. ^ Vatican II - Voice of the Church. Council Reminiscences January 22, 2007
  5. ^ a b c d e John L. Allen, Jr. (2000). Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith. The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. . Of this book, Allen later said: "If I were to write the book again today, I'm sure it would be more balanced, better informed, and less prone to veer off into judgment ahead of sober analysis"; and he accepted that the book had correctly been described as "Manichean journalism" (, 26 April 2005National Catholic ReporterJohn L. Allen, Jr, "Pondering the first draft of history" in ).
  6. ^ "My Brother, the Pope", Georg Ratzinger, pp. 190-1"
  7. ^ a b c d Herald Tribune News Service (November 12, 1962). "Cardinal Ottaviani Boycotting Council". St Petersburg Times. 
  8. ^ a b Ralp M. McInerny. "What Went Wrong with Vatican II:The Catholic Crisis Explained". 
  9. ^ a b Associated Press (January 8, 1968). "Vatican's Most Conservative Cardinal Quits". The Bodesto Bee. 
  10. ^ I Remember: An Autobiographical Interview With Meinold Krauss, Crossroad Publishing, 1985, pages 13 and 64.
  11. ^ Text of the "Ottavani Intervention"
  12. ^ "Vel in actu sacramentalis confessionis; vel ante aut immediate post confessionem; vel occasione vel praetextu confessionis; vel etiam extra occasionem confessionis in confessionali sive in alio loco ad confessiones excipiendas destinato aut electo cum simulatione audiendi ibidem confessionem" (opening paragraph of the document).
  13. ^ Preliminaries 11 of the document
  14. ^ Preliminaries 13 of the document
  15. ^ Preliminaries 18
  16. ^ Preliminaries 13
  17. ^ The Age: "Hide sex abuse, secret Vatican paper instructs"
  18. ^ 1962 Vatican Document
  19. ^ The Guardian
  20. ^ CBS News
  21. ^ Manila Times
  22. ^ Section 11 of the document
  23. ^ "Suspendatur a celebratione Missae et ab audiendis sacramentalibus confessionibus vel etiam pro delicti gravitate inhabilis ad ipsas excipiendas declaretur, privetur omnibus beneficiis, dignitatibus, voce activa et passiva, et inhabilis ad ea omnia declaretur, et in casibus gravioribus degradationi quoque subiiciatur" (Canon 2368).
  24. ^ LI (1959), p. 271Acta Apostolicae Sedis
  25. ^ a b c (Our Sunday Visitor 1998 ISBN 978-0-87973923-2), p. 157FaustinaCatherine M. Odell,
  26. ^ a b c , 30 August 2002)National Catholic ReporterJohn L. Allen Jr, "A saint despite Vatican reservations" (
  27. ^ L'Osservatore Romano, February 27, 1948.
  28. ^ Valtorta Publishing
  29. ^ Father Berti Events
  30. ^ Valepic
  31. ^ Fr. Berti's annotations to Maria Valtorta's Libro di Azaria (Book of Azaria), Edizioni Pisani, 1972.
  32. ^ Time Magazine article

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

  • Characters of the Ottaviani Intervention: Ottaviani
  • Elezione Papa Paolo VI (1963) (includes video of Alfredo Ottaviani announcing the election of Pope Paul VI)
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Nicola Canali
Cardinal Protodeacon
3 August 1961 – 26 June 1967
Succeeded by
Arcadio Larraona Saralegui, CMF
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