Cardinal who called Catholic Church sex abuse accusations ‘petty gossip’ dies at 94

Pope Francis talks to Cardinal Angelo Sodano as they arrive to attend a consistory at the Vatican February 13, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

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VATICAN CITY, May 28 (Reuters) – Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a controversial Vatican power broker for more than a quarter century, accused of covering up one of the Catholic Church’s most notorious sex abusers , died at the age of 94.

Sodano, who had been ill for some time and died on Friday evening, was secretary of state under two popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI – serving as number two in the Vatican hierarchy for 16 years between 1990 and 2006 .

It was widely believed that Sodano, along with John Paul’s secretary, then Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, led the Church in the last years of the late Pope’s life as his health deteriorated from Parkinson’s disease and other diseases. Jean-Paul died in 2005.

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In a series of expositions in the National Catholic Reporter in 2010, author Jason Berry, a leading expert on the Church’s sexual abuse crisis, wrote about how Sodano blocked the Vatican from investigating the father. Marcial Maciel, disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ religious order.

After John Paul’s death, Pope Benedict stepped up investigations into Maciel and fired him in 2006, when the Vatican acknowledged claims that he had been sidelined for decades were true.

The cult Legion of Christ order, whose rules forbade criticizing its founder or questioning his motives, later admitted that Maciel, who died in 2008, led a double life as a pedophile, womanizer and addict.

Sodano has repeatedly denied allegations that he knew about Maciel’s double life and covered it up. Maciel, a conservative seen as a bulwark against liberalism in the Church, was known to have made generous financial donations to the Vatican.

In 2010, four years after Pope Benedict replaced Sodano as secretary of state, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna accused Sodano of blocking a full-scale investigation of former Austrian cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.

Groer resigned as Archbishop of Vienna in 1995 after allegations that he had sexually abused young seminarians in the past. He died in 2003 without ever admitting guilt or facing charges.

Sodano also denied those accusations.

In 2010, victims of clergy sex abuse condemned Sodano for saying during a public Easter address that the abuse was mostly “petty gossip”.

Ordained a priest in 1950, Sodano joined the diplomatic service a few years later. He served in Vatican embassies in Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile before being recalled to the Vatican for senior administrative positions, including second place.

Vatican insiders have said that even after his retirement, Sodano, who continued to live in the Vatican, wielded significant influence in the careers of Vatican officials for the remainder of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Benoît resigned in 2013.

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Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Ros Russell

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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