© Reuters. From the file: Pope Francis speaks with Cardinal Angelo Sodano as they arrive for a forced ceremony at the Vatican on February 13, 2015. Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
By Philip Bolilla
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a controversial ruler of the Vatican for more than a quarter-century, has died at the age of 94, accused of covering up one of the Catholic Church’s most dangerous sex criminals.
Sodano, who had been ill for some time and died on Friday night, was foreign minister under two popes – John Paul II.
It was widely believed that Sodano, along with John Paul’s secretary, then Archbishop Stanislav Dziwisz, led the church in the last years of the late pope’s life, when his health deteriorated due to Parkinson’s and other ailments. John Paul died in 2005.
In a series of revelations in the National Catholic Reporter in 2010, author Jason Berry, a leading expert on the church’s sexual assault crisis, wrote how Sodano prevented the Vatican from cracking down on Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the church’s religious denomination. For the Legion of Christ.
After John Paul’s death, Pope Benedict intensified investigations into Maciel and fired him in 2006 when the Vatican acknowledged allegations that he had been sidelined for decades.
The cult-like Legion of Christ, whose rules forbade criticism of its founder or questioning his motives, admitted that Maciel, who died in 2008, lived a double life as a pedophile, womanizer, and drug addict.
Sodano has repeatedly denied allegations that he knew and was covering Maciel’s double life. Maciel, a conservative seen as a bulwark against liberalism in the Church, was famous for giving generous financial gifts to the Vatican.
In 2010, four years after Pope Benedict replaced Sodano as foreign minister, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna accused Sodano of obstructing a full investigation of former Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.
Groer resigned as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations of a history of sexual abuse of young clergy. He died in 2003 without admitting his guilt or bringing charges against him.
Sodano also denied these allegations.
In 2010, he condemned victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Sodano’s clergy for saying in a public Easter sermon that the abuse was mostly “trivial rumours”.
Ordained a priest in 1950, Sodano entered the diplomatic service a few years later. He served in the Vatican embassies in Ecuador, Uruguay, and Chile before being called up by the Vatican to hold senior administrative positions, including as runner-up.
Vatican insiders said Sodano, who continued to reside in the Vatican, continued to significantly influence the careers of Vatican officials for the remainder of Benedict’s papacy even after his retirement. Benedict resigned in 2013.