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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back