His Eminence 
Alfredo Ottaviani
Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
See Berrhoea (titular)
Enthroned November 7, 1959
Reign ended January 6, 1968
Predecessor Giuseppe Pizzardo
Successor Franjo Šeper
Ordination March 18, 1916
Consecration April 19, 1962
Created Cardinal January 12, 1953
Other Pro-Secretary of the Holy Office (1953-59)
Personal details
Born October 29, 1890(1890-10-29)
Rome, Italy
Died August 3, 1979 (aged 88)
Rome, Italy

Alfredo Ottaviani, PhD, STD, JCD (October 29, 1890—August 3, 1979) was an Italian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII named him cardinal in 1953. He served as Secretary of the Holy Office in the Roman Curia from 1959 to 1966 when that dicastery was reorganized as the 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.


Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R24391, Konkordatsunterzeichnung in Rom

Ottaviani (second from right) at the signing of the Reichskonkordat

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 March 18, 1916. On January 12, 1953, he was both appointed Pro-Secretary of the Holy Office and created Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria in Domnica by Pope Pius XII.

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

He was the leader of the Curial conservatives during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and worked with, amongst others, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, CSSp. During the last of the Council's preparatory sessions, Ottaviani engaged in a heated debated 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.

He was opposed in his movements for a rapid Council by German Cardinal Joseph Frings. Frings was advised by then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then Pope Benedict XVI.

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 honor of announcing Montini's election and crowning him on June 30 with the triregnum.

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 June 26, 1967, and he resigned as Pro-Prefect on January 6, 1968.

Impacts and influences

The Ottaviani intervention

On 25 September 1969, together with Cardinal Antonio Bacci, he wrote a letter to Paul VI, supporting a study by a group of theologians under the direction of Archbishop Lefebvre criticizing the revision of the Roman Rite Mass, which had already been promulgated on 3 April of that year. This letter became widely known as the Ottaviani Intervention, and is often used by Traditionalist Catholics as support for their opposition to the Novus Ordo Mass.[5]

Ecclesiastical procedure to be followed 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 during the sacrament of Confession. In these cases, members of the tribunal (judges and other officials), but not accusers or other witnesses, would be subject to automatic excommunication if they revealed anything about the contents of the trial, even after the verdict had been declared and put into effect.[6]

Media reports in 2003 presented this as an attempt to "hide sexual abuse".[7] Some reported that even accusers were subjected to excommunication if they made their accusations known, and that the document was stored in the Vatican Secret Archives, where it was discovered by a lawyer pursuing cases on behalf of victims of abuse by Catholic priests.[8][9][10] In fact, the 69-page document was sent to "all Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops and other Local Ordinaries, including those of Eastern Rite" and was to be found, even if after forty years it was generally forgotten, among the papers in their successors' offices. While media reports also suggested that the ecclesiastical verdict was never to be made known, the document itself spoke of the verdict being "declared" and "put into effect",[11] 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."[12] These punishments were of public character and not subject to secrecy.

Index of Forbidden Books

As a highly conservative Cardinal at the Holy Office, Ottaviani was responsible for the placement of a number of books on the Index of Forbidden Books[13][14].

The Index was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966 following the end of the Second Vatican Council, and is no longer enforceable under canonical law. However, various Catholic figures, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) have stated that it still holds some form of moral value, despite its being officially abolished.[15] Hence the stigma of being placed on the Index still follows some authors, long after the Index has been abolished.

Ottaviani's actions regarding the Index have been criticized in some cases, e.g. that of Faustina Kowalska, who was later declared a saint, and whose reported conversations with Jesus Christ are now quoted on the Vatican website.[16]

Faustina Kowalska

Ottaviani's conservative nature led him to be highly critical of works that reported visions of Jesus and Mary, although he would sometimes reverse his position later.[17]

In 1959, under Ottaviani's direction, the newly appointed Pope John XXIII was presented with a list of books to be placed on the Index of Forbidden Books and he signed the decree to that effect. Sister Faustina Kowalska's diary was among the banned books, and it remained on the Index for almost 20 years.

Officially, the ban is now attributed to misunderstandings created by a faulty Italian translation of Kowalska's Diary, but in fact it stemmed from more serious theological issues. For instance, her claim that Jesus had promised a complete remission of sin for certain devotional acts that only the sacraments can offer was rejected by the Holy Office.[18] However, once Cardinal Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) started the push to reverse the verdict, Ottaviani became a supporter of the move to remove Kowalska from the Index.[19]

Maria Valtorta

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

When the typed version of the 15,000 handwritten pages of Maria 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 alleged 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 cautioned that the Head of the Holy Office, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, was unenthusiastic regarding private revelations. They advised bypassing Cardinal Ottaviani altogether by presenting the typed manuscript directly to Pope Pius XII, through a recommended intermediary, which was accomplished in 1947. Ten months later, Monsignor Alphonso Carinci and Cardinal Augustin Bea facilitated a meeting between the Servite priests and Pope Pius XII, and it was recorded in L'Osservatore Romano .[20]

Valtorta's notebooks were to be published as a book called the Poem of the Man God. Cardinal Bea was impressed with the book and later wrote that he found the Poem of the Man God "not only interesting and pleasing, but truly edifying".[21]

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." 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.[22]

While Pope Pius XII was alive, Cardinal Ottaviani (who was then Pro-Prefect at the Holy Office) took no action against the 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.[23]

Interestingly, years later, Cardinals Bea and Ottaviani were to disagree once again, at the Second Vatican Council, on more wide ranging issues.[24]


  • Ottaviani was nearly blind throughout the entire course of the Second Vatican Council and afterwards.
  • His episcopal motto was: Semper idem ("Always the same"), which reflected his conservative theology.


  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. The title of the study was A Short Critical Examination of the new Ordinary of the Mass (TAN Books and Publishers, Inc, 1992). Also published was his address, "Duties of the Catholic State in Regard to Religion" (Angelus Press, 1954/93).
  6. Section 11 of the document
  7. The Age: "Hide sex abuse, secret Vatican paper instructs"
  8. The Guardian
  9. CBS News
  10. Manila Times
  11. Section 11 of the document
  12. "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).
  13. Paul Collins, 2001, From Inquisition to Freedom ISBN 0826454151
  14. Time Magazine,9171,836269,00.html
  15. Joseph Ratzinger, 1992 Co-Workers of the Truth ISBN 089870409X
  16. Vatican biography of Saint Faustina Kowalska
  17. Catherine M. Odell, 1998 Faustina ISBN 0879739231
  18. A Saint despite the Vatican [1]
  19. Divine Mercy website [2]
  20. L'Osservatore Romano February 27, 1948.
  21. Valtorta Publishing [3]
  22. Valepic [4]
  23. Fr. Berti's annotations to Maria Valtorta's Libro di Azaria (Book of Azaria), Edizioni Pisani, 1972.
  24. Time Magazine article [5]


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External links

hu:Alfredo Ottavianino:Alfredo Ottavianiru:Оттавиани, Альфредо sv:Alfredo Ottaviani

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