Archbishop Romeo Panciroli

Ponderous Vatican press officer

Romeo Panciroli, priest and press officer: born Reggio Emilia, Italy 21 November 1923; ordained priest 1949; Director, Vatican Press Office 1976-84; Titular Archbishop of Noba 1984-2006; papal nuncio 1984-99; died Rome 16 March 2006.

However ungrateful the hacks to whom they have to impart information, few official spokespeople are subjected to complaints in Latin over their alleged failures. "Dolore et stupore [in pain and stupefaction]," irate journalists began their complaint in the lead-up to the papal conclave of August 1978, berating the Vatican's chief spokesperson, Father Romeo Panciroli, over the lack of telephones in the Vatican Press Office, the fact that the office would close at two each afternoon and that only five English-speaking journalists would be allowed to tour the conclave area before the cardinals were enclosed in order to choose a new pope.

The complaint brought some improvement, but the Vatican Press Office - over which Father Panciroli presided in the days of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I, and in the early years of John Paul II's pontificate - continued in its antiquated way.

Clapping his hands three times to draw the attention of the assembled journalists when he arrived in the Press Office (a habit mercilessly mimicked by one of their number), Panciroli would pronounce the latest news as the Vatican saw it. Whether it was the death of a pontiff, the withdrawal of the Catholic licence to teach from the troublesome theologian Hans Küng or the suspension of the rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, he always imparted the news with the ponderousness he felt it deserved.

Panciroli was far from forthcoming and became known to the media pack as "Padre Non Mi Risulta" ("Father I Don't Have Anything on That"). Journalists learned to take his famous denials - such as when he said that John Paul II would not be visiting Turkey in 1979 just before it was officially confirmed that he would - with a pinch of salt.

But the biggest blunder came over the death of Pope John Paul I in September 1978 when, to cover up the fact that the pontiff was woken each morning by a nun, the Press Office proclaimed he had been found dead by his priest-secretary holding a copy of The Imitation of Christ. Had these two myths not been concocted, the lack of medical attention to an ailing pope would not have developed into elaborate murder conspiracies.

Journalists craving accreditation would arrive at Panciroli's office, sit while he peered humourlessly through his small glasses and listen while he berated what he regarded as sensation-seeking in most of the correspondents he had already had to accredit. Recalcitrant journalists were on occasion threatened with having their accreditation removed, though (unlike his successor) Panciroli never carried this out.

If prompted that deadlines were fast approaching, Panciroli would respond that the Holy Spirit had no deadlines and that the Vatican thought in terms of centuries, not minutes and hours.

Born to a devout Catholic family in northern Italy, Panciroli decided early he wanted to be a priest, joining the Comboni Missionaries and being ordained in 1949. He edited the missionary magazine Nigrizia before being summoned to join the Vatican's Council for Social Communications in 1973, becoming chief spokesperson in 1976.

In 1984, after 11 years at the press office, Panciroli was kicked upstairs as John Paul II brought in Joaquin Navarro Valls to sharpen up the press operation. Named an archbishop, Panciroli was assigned as papal nuncio in several African countries: Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Gambia. He ended his career in Vatican diplomacy in the tricky job of nuncio in Iran, retiring in 1999.

Felix Corley

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas