Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a controversial Vatican power broker for more than 25 years who was accused of covering up one of the Catholic Church’s most renowned sex offenders, has died at the age of 94.
Sodano, who had been ill for some time and died on Friday evening, served as secretary of state under two popes — John Paul II and Benedict XVI — and held the second-highest position in the Vatican hierarchy for 16 years, from 1990 to 2006.
It was commonly believed that Sodano, together with John Paul’s secretary, then-Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, managed the Church during the late pope’s final years, as his health declined due to Parkinson’s disease and other diseases. John Paul died in 2005.
In a series of exposés published in 2010 by the National Catholic Reporter, author Jason Berry, a major specialist on the Church’s sexual abuse epidemic, detailed how Sodano prevented the Vatican from investigating the discredited founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel.
After John Paul’s death, Pope Benedict intensified his investigations of Maciel and removed him in 2006, when the Vatican conceded that claims it had ignored for decades were accurate.
Later, the cult-like Legion of Christ order, whose rules banned criticising its founder or questioning his intentions, admitted that Maciel, who died in 2008, led a double life as a paedophile, womaniser, and drug addict.
Sodano denied multiple times that he was aware of Maciel’s other life and that he covered up for him. Maciel, a conservative viewed as a barrier against liberalism in the Church, was rumoured to have made large financial contributions to the Vatican.
Four years after Pope Benedict dismissed Sodano as secretary of state, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna accused Sodano of obstructing a comprehensive inquiry of former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer in 2010.
Groer resigned as archbishop of Vienna in 1995 following claims that he had assaulted young seminarians sexually in the past. He died in 2003 without ever having admitted guilt or been charged.
Sodano refuted these charges as well.
In 2010, victims of clergy sexual abuse criticised Sodano’s Easter message in which he characterised assault as primarily “petty gossip.”
Several years after his 1950 ordination as a priest, Sodano joined the diplomatic service. He worked in Vatican embassies in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile before being recalled to the Vatican for senior administrative positions, including the position of number two.
According to Vatican insiders, Sodano, who continued to reside in the Vatican after his retirement, exerted considerable influence on the careers of Vatican officials for the remainder of Benedict’s pontificate. In 2013, Benedict resigned.