Once the Vatican's No. 2 Man, His Legacy Was Marred

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 94, championed founder of religious order who turned out to be a pedophile
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 28, 2022 9:00 AM CDT
Cardinal Who Was Once Vatican's No. 2 Dead at 94
Cardinal Angelo Sodano arrives for a meeting at the Vatican on March 8, 2013. Sodano, a once-powerful Italian prelate who long served as the Vatican's No. 2 official, died on Friday. He was 94.   (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

(Newser) – Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a once-powerful Italian prelate who long served as the Vatican's No. 2 official but whose legacy was tarnished by his support for the pedophile founder of an influential religious order, has died. He was 94. In its Saturday announcement of his death, the Vatican said Sodano died on Friday. Italian state radio said Sodano recently had contracted COVID-19, complicating his already frail health. Corriere della Sera said he died in a Rome clinic, where he'd been admitted a few weeks ago. In a condolence telegram Saturday to Maria Sodano, the retired prelate's sister, Pope Francis noted that Sodano had held many roles in the Vatican's diplomatic corps, culminating in his being named secretary of state on June 28, 1991, by the then-pontiff, John Paul II. A day later, John Paul, who later was made a saint, elevated Sodano to the rank of cardinal.

Late in his Vatican career, however, Sodano's church legacy was tarnished by his staunch championing of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the deceased Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, a religious order, who was later revealed to be a pedophile. An internal investigation eventually identified 33 priests and 71 seminarians in the order who sexually abused minors over some eight decades. Sodano for years, while secretary of state under John Paul, had prevented the Vatican from investigating sex abuse allegations against Maciel. The Holy See had evidence dating back decades that the founder of the religious order—an organization that was a favorite of John Paul's for producing so many priests—was a drug addict and a pedophile. The Vatican's biography, issued after Sodano died, made no mention of the scandals.

Instead, it noted Sodano's accomplishment as a top Vatican diplomat, including his work for "the peaceful solution to the controversy of the sovereignty of 2 states," a reference to the territorial dispute that erupted in the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and Britain. Speaking of Sodano's career at the Vatican, which saw him serve until 2006 as the Holy See's No. 2 official in the role of secretary of state, Francis said the prelate had carried out his mission with "exemplary dedication." In December 2019, Francis accepted Sodano's resignation as dean of the College of Cardinals, an influential role, especially in preparing for conclaves, the closed-door election of pontiffs. Sodano had held that position from 2005. Sodano's funeral is to take place on Tuesday in St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Francis will perform a traditional funeral rite at the end of the ceremony.

(Read more cardinals stories.)

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