Pericle Felici
Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
Pericle Felici.jpg
Pericle Felici photographed during the Second Vatican Council
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Appointed15 August 1977
Term ended22 March 1982
PredecessorDino Staffa
SuccessorAurelio Sabattani
Other post(s)
Ordination28 October 1933
by Alfonso Maria de Sanctis
Consecration28 October 1960
by Pope John XXIII
Created cardinal26 June 1967
by Pope Paul VI
Personal details
Pericle Felici

(1911-08-01)1 August 1911
Died22 March 1982(1982-03-22) (aged 70)
Foggia, Italy
ParentsLuigi Felici
Anna Roscioli
Previous post(s)
MottoFructificat Domino
Coat of arms
Pericle Felici
Styles of
Pericle Felici
Coat of arms of Pericle Felici.svg
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeeSamosata (titular)

Pericle Felici (1 August 1911 – 22 March 1982) was an Italian prelate of the Catholic Church. From 1947 until his death he held various offices in the Roman Curia, including Secretary General of the Second Vatican Council, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, and from 1977 Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He became a cardinal in 1967. In 1978, he twice announced to the world from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica the election of a new pope. At the Council he was identified with the conservatives who sought to maintain Curial control of the proceedings and he was a prominent voice for more conservative and traditionalist views throughout his career.


Felici was born in Segni near Rome[1] on 1 August 1911. He studied theology at the local seminary of Segni and at the Roman Pontifical Seminary. He was ordained as a priest in 1933. He earned degrees in philosophy, theology and canon law and then served for ten years as rector of the Pontifical Roman Seminary.[2] He took up his first assignment with the Roman Curia in 1947 as an auditor of the Roman Rota, the Holy See's highest trial court.[3]

Second Vatican Council

In 1959, when Pope John XXIII named a committee of twelve to plan the Second Vatican Council, Felici was named a member and its secretary.[4] As secretary he served as spokesman, outlining the committee's plans to the media. He described its work as current issues rather than questions of church practice and said journalists would be welcome to report freely: "The Pope wants all opinions, even if contrary to the doctrine, experience and jurisprudence of the Roman curia."[5] Cardinal Roberto Tucci recorded in his diaries that Pope John described Felici as very learned and a hard worker, adding that "he has a narrow mind".[6]

In 1960 he was appointed the titular archbishop of Samosata and ordained as a bishop on 28 October. Upon the death of Pope John in 1963, Felici led the services when the pope's body was transferred to St. Peter's Basilica[7] and when it was interred in the basilica's crypt.[8]

As Secretary General of the council, he took the required oath on behalf of all Council participants.[9] He made announcements to the assembled bishops about their agenda and procedures in Latin,[10] as well as the results of balloting when voting began in late 1963.[11] In 1962, during its first session, he prevented the distribution of copies of a speech scheduled for delivery by Cardinal Helder Pessoa Camara of Rio de Janeiro because it criticized the council's failure to address social issues.[12] On 25 November 1963, as the council's second session was nearing its end and factional disputes were breaking into the open, Felici tried to prevent the distribution of a statement on the council's much-contested document on communications signed by 25 bishops, even trying without success to take one from Auxiliary Bishop Josef Maria Reuss of Mainz and then summoning Vatican police.[13][14] Thomas Merton mocked him as the council's "dean of discipline" when the next year Felici announced that distributing such leaflets was forbidden.[15] Felici was identified as a key member of the Curia, along with such senior officials as Alfredo Ottaviani, head of the Congregation of the Holy Office, and Amleto Cicognani, Secretary of State, who tried to maintain control of the Council in the interests of the Roman Curia and limit the influence of the bishops who constituted the council's membership.[16]

Later appointments

Cardinal Felici in Fátima in May 1968
Cardinal Felici in Fátima in May 1968

He was also named president of the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of the Second Vatican Council.[2] It was tasked with implementing papal decisions that resulted from the council's work and authoring decrees to implement the council's decisions on Christian education and on the role of the laity.[17] He was also a member of the Vatican commission that reviewed the new catechism produced by the Dutch bishops in 1967 and sought clarifications before allowing it to be translated into other languages.[18]

Beginning on 21 February 1967, he headed the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law,[a][20][21] a task completed a few months before his death.[1] The commission's initial attempts to produce an introductory statement on the nature of the Church, a text known as the Lex Fundamentalist, met significant criticism from those identified as liberals and progressives, and Cardinal Suenens blamed Felici personally for producing a text, he said, "completely blocking all future development".[22] Felici circulated a draft to the world's bishops in the spring of 1971 and reported to the Synod of Bishops in November 1971 that it had been overwhelmingly rejected. It was, wrote one journalist, "vigorously and even bitterly criticized by canon lawyers and others" who described it as "overly authoritarian" and complained that it "committed the church to single outdated view of itself at a time when the subject is still a source of considerable disagreement among theologians".[23]

By the time Pope Paul reiterated the Church's opposition to artificial birth control in Humanae vitae in 1968, Felici was recognized as one of the key figures in the Curia who supported Pope Paul VI in his "new hard-line policy". In The New Yorker, Francis X. Murphy found it "depressing" that the pope was "inspired and supported by the same group ... who tried unsuccessfully to thwart the majority of the bishops at the Council"–Ottaviani, Cicognani, Antoniutti, Staffa, and Felici–a group of whom the liberal and controversial theologian Edward Schillebeeckx said: "In my opinion, Pope Paul has become a prisoner of five or six cardinals. Because of their one-sided information, he became convinced of the necessity of a hard line [on birth control]. Everybody knows who these cardinals are. They are really blind. They are the ones who are destroying the Church."[24][b]

Felici appeared in a more collaborative context in 1970 when he joined Cardinal Johannes Willebrands in announcing somewhat relaxed rules for Catholics who marry non-Catholics.[26]

He was also a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Rite.[2]

On 26 June 1967, Pope Paul VI elevated him to the rank of cardinal and made Cardinal-Deacon of Sant'Apollinare alle Terme Neroniane-Alessandrine.[27] At a reception for the new cardinals, Pope Paul asked him what the appointment meant to him and he answered: "A lot of work and loyalty to the boss."[2]

On 14 September 1977 he was appointed Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the chief judicial officer of the Holy See.[28]

1978 conclaves

In 1978, Felici participated in the August and October papal conclaves, where he was considered papabile, that is, a candidate for election, though no candidate appeared particularly strong. Reports said U.S. and Latin American cardinals found Felici too conservative.[2][29][30][31]

Because he was the senior Cardinal Deacon, he made the first public announcement of the conclave's results, announcing the elections of Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul I and of Karol Wojtyła as Pope John Paul II.[1] He also as senior cardinal deacon bestowed the pallium on both popes at their papal inaugurations.[32]

His title as cardinal-deacon was changed to cardinal-priest on 30 June 1979.[citation needed]

Synod of Bishops

He was a conservative voice at several meetings of the Synod of Bishops. In 1971, though Pope Paul had sought the bishops' opinions on priestly celibacy, he preferred to leave the matter to the pope alone.[33] In 1974, he led the discussion group that chose Latin as its common language and he criticized liberals who represented social and political liberation as a pathway to liberation from sin, which he considered a formulation that reversed the truth and disparaged the role of religion and the Church.[34]

In 1978, Pope John Paul II appointed Felici to the 15-member council of the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, in likely anticipation of the planned 1980 synod on the family, given the Signatura's responsibility for marriage annulments. Felici was known as an opponent of proposals to ease the granting of annulments.[35] At that Synod in October 1980, when several bishops called for a study of the Church's ban on artificial forms of birth control or a reconsideration of the way the Church taught it, he said he considered the encyclical that established the ban, Humanae vitae, a "closed" document.[36][c] Felici said: "There is no need of rediscussing it, no need to pay attention to statistics because statistics don't signify anything."[37] In a speech approved by Pope John Paul II, he reported to the Synod that marriage annulments were rapidly increasing and that lower courts were failing to uphold standards and using excuses like "psychological immaturity". He warned that canon law should not be disregarded out of "theological or pastoral concern".[38][d]

Last years

A master of Latin, he "had a biting sense of humor, which he reportedly used at the expense of cardinals whose Latin was not up to his".[1] He wrote poetry in Latin and was said to prefer to converse in Latin.[2][9]

He suffered a heart attack in 1980.[2] He collapsed after attending a religious service in Foggia and died there on 22 March 1982.[1] At the time of his death he was a member of several dicasteries, including the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.[2]

His diaries of his work for the Second Vatican Council covering the years 1959 to 1966 were published in 2015.[6][39]

Selected works


  1. ^ Following Vatican practice for appointments to positions reserved for a cardinal, Felici was initially named pro-president of this Commission and became its president when he became a cardinal in June.[19]
  2. ^ The New Yorker article appeared under the byline of Xavier Rynne, the pseudonym of Francis X. Murphy.[25]
  3. ^ Those criticizing the ban included Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster, Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Joseph Bernadin of Cincinnati, its former president.[36]
  4. ^ According to the New York Times, annulments granted in the United States rose from 338 in 1968 to 17,190 in 1978.[38]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Cardinal Felici, Noted Expert on Church Law for Vatican". The New York Times. Associated Press. 23 March 1982. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Cardinal Pericle Felici, a high-ranking member of the Vatican". United Press International. 22 March 1982. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  3. ^ Chenaux, Philippe (2012). Le temps de Vatican II: Une introduction à l'histoire du Concile (in French). Desclée De Brouwer. ISBN 9782220080062. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Pope Picks Group to Plan Council". The New York Times. 17 May 1959. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  5. ^ "Ecumenical Parley Expected in 1962". The New York Times. 19 April 1961. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b Roncalli, Marco (14 November 2015). "Pericle Felici, il Concilio senza segreti". Avvenire (in Italian). Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  7. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (5 June 1963). "Pope John's Body Lies in St. Peter's for Public Honor". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  8. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (7 June 1963). "Pope John Buried in Basilica Crypt". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  9. ^ a b Hebblethwaite, Peter (1994) [1984]. John XXIII: Pope of the Century. London: Continuum. pp. 208, 221. ISBN 9780826449955. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  10. ^ "Informal Air Tempers Ceremony at Sessions of Vatican Council". The New York Times. 8 October 1963. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  11. ^ Bracker, Milton (5 December 1963). "TV Looks over Prelates' Shoulders". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  12. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (23 September 1963). "Brazilian Bids Fellow Prelates Drop Some Trappings of Office". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  13. ^ Bracker, Milton (26 November 1963). "Vatican Council Nears Its End; Communications Text Is Issue". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  14. ^ Küng, Hans (2005). My Struggle for Freedom: A Memoir. A&C Black. p. 401. ISBN 9780826476388. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  15. ^ Merton, Thomas (1988). A Vow of Conversation: Journals, 1964-1965. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. p. 81. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  16. ^ Küng, Hans (January 2005). My Struggle for Freedom: A Memoir. pp. 335, 357–8, 364, 405–6, 413, 421–2, 431. ISBN 9780826476388. Retrieved 26 April 2018. But shortly afterward [Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo] learns from the General Secretary of the Council, the jovial but brutal Curia bishop Felici, that Felici has struck out this entry, since speaking on the topic [celibacy] is not allowed. 'And why?,' asks the bishop. As so often the snooty answer is: 'Ex auctotitate superiore, on higher authority.' By this impressive phrase the members of the Curia mean the pope–whether they've asked him or not.
  17. ^ "Sharing of Power Ordered by Pope". The New York Times. 13 August 1966. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  18. ^ "Vatican Seeking Changes by Dutch". The New York Times. 4 August 1966. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Pope Names Polish Prelate as Head of New Synod of Bishops". The New York Times. 24 February 1967. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  20. ^ Van de Wiel, Constant (1991). History of Canon Law. Louvain: Peeters Press. p. 175. ISBN 9789068312126. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  21. ^ Acta Apostolicae Sedis (PDF). Vol. LIX. 1967. p. 382. Retrieved 20 June 2020.
  22. ^ Fiske, Edward B. (15 August 1971). "A Church Document That May Produce Fireworks". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  23. ^ Fiske, Edward B. (4 November 1971). "Synod of Bishops Affirms Celibacy Rule for Priests". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  24. ^ Rynne, Xavier (2 November 1968). "Letter from Vatican City: The Catholic Church and Contraception". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  25. ^ Hayes, Patrick J. (2012). "'Bless Me Father, for I Have Rynned': The Vatican II Journalism of Francis X. Murphy, C.Ss.R.". U.S. Catholic Historian. 30 (2): 55–75. doi:10.1353/cht.2012.0011. JSTOR 23362870. S2CID 162301731.
  26. ^ "Vatican Asks Talks on Mixed Marriage". The New York Times. 1 May 1970. Retrieved 27 April 2018. The new rules eliminate the requirement that the non-Catholic partner promise to raise the children in the Catholic faith. Instead, they require only that the non-Catholic be informed of his spouse's commitment to bring up the children as Catholics.
  27. ^ Fiske, Edward B. (30 May 1967). "Pontiff Appoints 27 New Cardinals" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  28. ^ "Pope Advances a Cardinal". The New York Times. 15 September 1977. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  29. ^ "Pope Dies After Heart Attack". The Washington Post. 7 August 1978. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  30. ^ "Völlig offen". Der Spiegel (in German). 14 August 1978. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  31. ^ Dugan, George (5 September 1976). "Polish Cardinal Warmly Greeted". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  32. ^ "Pope John Paul II Receiving Pallium". Getty Images. 22 October 1978. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  33. ^ Fiske, Edward B. (5 November 1971). "Synod Split on ordaining Married Men". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  34. ^ Shenker, Israel (20 October 1974). "But They Talk in Rome of Laity, Liturgy, Family and Youth". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  35. ^ Reese, Thomas J. (1998). Inside the Vatican. Harvard University Press. pp. 289–90. ISBN 9780674932616. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  36. ^ a b "Italian Cardinal Criticizes a Call For Review of Birth Control Ban". The New York Times. 1 October 1980. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  37. ^ Briggs, Kenneth A. (2 October 1980). "Archbishop Stresses Stand Against Birth Control". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  38. ^ a b "Annulments Soar, the Vatican Finds". The New York Times. 7 October 1980. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  39. ^ Caruso, Luca (5 October 2015). "Il Diario conciliare di Monsignor Pericle Felici". Zenit (in Italian). Retrieved 26 April 2018.
Additional sources
Catholic Church titles Preceded byCharles Journet Cardinal Protodeacon 5 March 1973 – 30 June 1979 Succeeded bySergio Pignedoli Preceded byDino Staffa Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura 13 September 1977 – 22 March 1982 Succeeded byAurelio Sabattani