Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, who has died aged 94, may have been little known in the English-speaking world, but he was for decades one of the most important prelates in the Catholic Church.Cardinal Angelo Sodano
His influence and power, though discreet, were pervasive, and all the stronger for being nearly invisible. Every scandal in the Church, and there have been many, either led back to Sodano or had a Sodano component, yet he was never brought to book.
Like the fictional Baron Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, “before him all Rome trembled”. Unlike Scarpia, Sodano lived to tell the tale. Angelo Raffaele Sodano was born in Isola d’Asti, Piedmont, on November 23 1927, his family were prosperous middle-class landowners, and his father sat in the Chamber of Deputies as a Christian Democrat from 1948 to 1963, at a time when the Christian Democrat party was more or less all-powerful in the Italian state.
Angelo was one of six children in a devoutly Catholic family, and after leaving school enrolled in his local seminary, becoming a priest in 1950. He later taught theology in Asti and then went to Rome to gain a doctorate in theology and also in Canon Law. Thus qualified, he joined the papal diplomatic service in 1959.
He was posted to successive nunciatures in Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile in junior positions, in 1968 returning to Rome, where he worked in what was then called the Council for Public Affairs of the Church, which dealt with the Church’s foreign affairs.
During this period, he was part of diplomatic missions to Romania, Hungary and East Germany. In 1978 he was consecrated as Archbishop and sent back to Chile, this time as nuncio. He held the post for 10 years, at a time when Chile was ruled by Augusto Pinochet and the Church had to steer a difficult course between the dictatorship and its opponents.
It was in Chile that Sodano first met Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, a Mexican priest who had founded an order, along robustly traditional lines, called the Legionaries of Christ. Maciel gained Sodano’s confidence and, thanks to his influence, overcame the opposition of the Chilean bishops who had been trying to keep the Legionaries out of the country.
Cardinal Sodano with Pope Francis
Sodano himself only relinquished the position of Dean at the advanced aged of 92. Following his death, from pneumonia and Covid-19, Pope Francis referred to him as “an amiable pastor” and an “esteemed man of the Church”.