FOGGIA, Italy -- Cardinal Pericle Felici, a high-ranking member of the Vatican central government who was several times a leading candidate to become pope, died Monday. He was 70.
Felici, a noted Church conservative, was a member of seven Vatican congregations and commissions and served as the president of two.
Felici, who suffered a heart attack two years ago, felt ill at the end of a mass in the cathedral at Foggia in southern Italy. He was taken to a hospital, where he died several minutes later.
Vatican deputy press spokesman Rev. Pierfranco Pastore confirmed Felici's death and said the cardinal appeared to have suffered a heart attack.
Felici was a member of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Sacraments and the Divine Cult, and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
He was also president of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law, president of the Ponitifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of the Second Vatican Council and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Rite.
Felici, who spoke perfect classical Latin and often preferred to hold conversations in the language, gained world attention after the death of Pope Paul VI in August 1978 and after the death of Pope John Paul I in September of the same year.
On both occasions he was considered a 'papabile,' a prime contender for the papacy.
Reports written after the conclaves were over said Felici came close to being elected pope but liberal cardinals from the United States and Latin America blocked him because they considered him too conservative.
Friends said he was disappointed he did not become pope but the feeling did not dilute his unflagging loyalty to the elected pontiffs.
A scholarly classicist, Felici was born Aug. 1, 1911 at Segni in the Rome province of Lazio into a family that already included an uncle as a priest. It was from his uncle that he developed his passion for Latin and ancient Roman history.
He was ordained a priest when he was 22 and recieved doctorates in philosophy, theology and canon law before serving as rector of the Pontifical Roman Seminary for 10 years.
After his involvement in the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965, he plunged into one of his most ambitious projects -- the revision of the church's code of canon law, which had not been changed since the beginning of the century.
Felici, who wrote Latin poetry, was consecrated a bishop in 1960 and made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1967.
At a reception in honor of the new cardinals, Pope Paul asked Felici: 'What does your cardinalate mean to you?' Felici replied: 'A lot of work and loyalty to the boss.'
His predilection for straight talk made him intolerant of flowery compliments.
When an Italian journalist elaborately thanked him for 'the honor of allowing me to accompnay your eminence' on one of his walks, the journalist later wrote that Felici replied: 'The honor is all yours, dear friend, but the walk was all mine.'