Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Cardinal Sodano Deserves A Millstone

No molester himself, but he was biggest protector of Father Maciel -- who personally abused 60 boys, says new report
Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 8.48.24 PM

Cardinal Angelo Sodano has resigned, at 92, as Dean of the College of Cardinals. Excerpt:

Pope Francis used the occasion to express “my gratitude, including in the name of the members of the College of Cardinals, for the precious and punctual service he [Cardinal Sodano] has offered as dean for many years with availability, dedication, efficiency and a great ability to organize and coordinate.”

“Now it is up to the cardinal bishops to elect a new dean,” the pope said, referring to a group of 12 top-ranking cardinals. “I hope they elect someone who will occupy this very important role full time.”

Remember, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano accused Sodano of covering up for Cardinal Ted McCarrick’s homosexual molestation of seminarians. Rocco Palmo remarks:

Despite being retired as Secretary of State since 2006, Cardinal Angelo Sodano has managed to retain a staggering degree of clout in the Vatican ranks, above all through his proficiency at filling the middle management of the dicasteries with loyalists over his 16 years as the Holy See’s de facto COO under John Paul II. Yet at the same time, as reports piled up of the now 92 year-old cardinal’s direct involvement in several major scandals – above all the cases of two globally known predators: the Legion of Christ founder Marcial Maciel Degollado and Chile’s most prominent abuser, Fernando Karadima, both close Sodano allies – the veteran diplomat remained a glaringly public presence given his enduring role as Dean of the College of Cardinals: by law the church’s #2 figure, and the one who presides over nearly every aspect of a vacancy of the papacy itself.

Direct involvement, note. The Legionaries of Christ has just released some news about its late founder:

Sexual abuse of minors was rife among superiors of the Legionaires of Christ Catholic religious order, with at least 60 boys abused by its founder Father Marcial Maciel, a report by the group showed.

The report is important because for decades until 2006, including during all of the pontificate of Pope John Paul, the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that Maciel had abused them sexually, some when they were as young as 12.

The order said the report, which was released on Saturday and covers the period since Maciel founded it in his native Mexico in 1941 to this year, was “an additional attempt (by the Legionaires) to confront their history”.

Maciel, who died in 2008, was perhaps the Roman Catholic Church’s most notorious paedophile, even abusing children he had fathered secretly with at least two women while living a double life and being feted by the Vatican and Church conservatives.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 92, who was secretary of state under John Paul, was for years one of the Legionaires’ biggest protectors in the Vatican.

The Legionaries’ report found that 175 boys were abused by priests of the order. A staggering one-third of them were abused by Maciel himself.

Jason Berry, one of the best-informed journalists on the abuse beat, wrote back in 2010 about how Maciel built his empire.I had not read this story before tonight. It is breathtaking. Maciel bribed senior churchmen virtually from the beginning. Excerpts:

In his time, the late Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado was the greatest fundraiser of the modern Roman Catholic church. He was also a magnetic figure in recruiting young men to religious life in an era when vocations were plummeting. Behind that exalted façade, however, Maciel was a notorious pedophile, and a man who fathered several children by different women. His life was arguably the darkest chapter in the clergy abuse crisis that continues to plague the church.

The saga of the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, a secretive, cult-like religious order now under Vatican investigation, opens into a deeper story of how one man’s lies and betrayal dazzled key figures in the Roman curia and how Maciel’s money and success helped him find protection and influence. For years, the heads of Vatican congregations and the pope himself ignored persistent warnings that something was rotten in the community where Legionaries called their leader Nuestro Padre , “Our Father,” and considered him a living saint.

The charismatic Mexican, who founded the Legion of Christ in 1941, sent streams of money to Roman curia officials with a calculated end, according to many sources interviewed by NCR: Maciel was buying support for his group and defense for himself, should his astounding secret life become known.


In 1994 Pope John Paul II heralded him as “an efficacious guide to youth.” John Paul continued praising Maciel after a 1997 Hartford Courant investigation by Gerald Renner and this writer exposed Maciel’s drug habits and abuse of seminarians. In 1998, eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case to prosecute him in then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s tribunal. For the next six years, Maciel had the staunch support of three pivotal figures: Sodano; Cardinal Eduardo Martínez Somalo, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life; and Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Polish secretary of John Paul. During those years, Sodano pressured Ratzinger not to prosecute Maciel, as NCR previously reported. Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that the Maciel case was a “delicate” matter and questioned whether it would be “prudent” to prosecute at that time.

In 2004, John Paul — ignoring the canon law charges against Maciel — honored him in a Vatican ceremony in which he entrusted the Legion with the administration of Jerusalem’s Notre Dame Center, an education and conference facility. The following week, Ratzinger took it on himself to authorize an investigation of Maciel.

Berry reports on how Maciel used to grease the palms of just about everybody in Rome in a position to help the Legion. Sodano was its most important protector. One of the only Roman curial officials who refused Legion money was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. More:

After the ex-Legion victims filed a canonical case in 1998 against Maciel in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Sodano as secretary of state — essentially, the Vatican prime minister — pressured Ratzinger, as the congregation’s prefect, to halt the proceeding. As NCR reported in 2001, José Barba, a college professor in Mexico City and ex-Legionary who filed the 1998 case in Ratzinger’s office, learned from the canonist handling the case, Martha Wegan in Rome, of Sodano’s role.

“Sodano came over with his entire family, 200 of them, for a big meal when he was named cardinal,” recalled Favreau. “And we fed them all. When he became secretary of state there was another celebration. He’d come over for special events, like the groundbreaking with a golden shovel for the House of Higher Studies. And a dinner after that.”

The intervention of a high Vatican official in a tribunal case illustrates the fragile nature of the system, and in the Maciel case, how a guilty man escaped punishment for years.

“Cardinal Sodano was the cheerleader for the Legion,” said one of the ex-Legionaries. “He’d come give a talk at Christmas and they’d give him $10,000.” Another priest recalled a $5,000 donation to Sodano.

But in December 2004, with John Paul’s health deteriorating by the day, Ratzinger broke with Sodano and ordered a canon lawyer on his staff, Msgr. Charles Scicluna, to investigate. Two years later, as Benedict, he approved the order that Maciel abandon ministry for a “life of penitence and prayer.” Maciel had “more than 20 but less than 100 victims,” an unnamed Vatican official told NCR’s John Allen at the time.

The congregation cited Maciel’s age in opting against a full trial.

An influential Vatican official told NCR that Sodano insisted on softening the language of the Vatican communiqué — to praise the Legion and its 60,000-member lay wing, Regnum Christi — despite the order’s nine-year Web site campaign denouncing the seminary victims. The Legion’s damage control rolled into a new phase with its statement that compared Maciel to Christ for refusing to defend himself, and accepting his “new cross” with “tranquility of conscience.”

Read it all. Sodano was, and is, scum. All those innocent little boys. Sixty of them. That is almost enough to fill a school bus. As a goodbye gift, Francis ought to have given him a gold millstone to drape around his neck.

UPDATE: Sandro Magister tells a story about how Francis cut Sodano recently. Really interesting, the intrigue.




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now