The Dec. 21 resignation of Cardinal Angelo Sodano as the dean of the College of Cardinals is the conclusion of a long career, not without controversy. It occasioned a change in the office of the dean itself, which will now be subject to a five-year term. It also signals that Pope Francis is preparing for the end of his pontificate, with no evidence that it is coming sooner rather than later, let alone imminent.
Cardinal Sodano’s Career
Angelo Sodano was a longtime papal diplomat, serving as nuncio in Chile during the 1980s. He was appointed secretary of state by St. John Paul II in 1990, where he served until 2006, when he retired at age 78 under Pope Benedict XVI. He had been dean of the college since April 2005, when he succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had been dean until his election as pope.
When the complete collapse of the Chilean episcopate took place in 2018 after the disastrous papal visit, some defenders of Pope Francis attempted to blame the compromised state of the Chilean episcopate on the recommendations that Cardinal Sodano made as nuncio in the 1980s.
More significant, it is now widely known that when allegations against Legionaries of Christ founder Father Marcial Maciel arrived in Rome in 1998, there was a struggle between Cardinal Sodano and Cardinal Ratzinger over how they would be investigated. This resulted in a delay for several years until Father Maciel retired as superior of the Legionaries in January 2005. Cardinal Ratzinger immediately resumed the investigation, which was ongoing when he was elected pope in April 2005.
The subsequent year, Father Maciel was removed from all public ministry and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. (Last week, the Legionaries released a report stating that their order’s founder had more than 60 victims.) Benedict replaced Cardinal Sodano as secretary of state four weeks after the Maciel case was resolved. The Maciel matter remains a stain on Cardinal Sodano’s record.
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