Letter from Rome

Twilight time for the Vatican's 'Godfather'
Letter from Rome

Pope Francis with Italian cardinal Angelo Sodano, as he arrives to take part in the papal consistory before the nominations of new cardinals held at the Vatican in this file image taken on Feb. 13, 2015. (Photo by Andreas Solaro/AFP)

He is now 90 years of age. And the personal power he systematically consolidated over the course of several decades, reaching its zenith in the early 1990s, has begun to wane.

But for some three decades he was the man in the Vatican no one dared to cross. Even the popes he served were careful to gain his consent because of the loyalty he commanded from many key people at all levels of the Roman Curia.

His name is Angelo Sodano, the reigning dean of the College of Cardinals and the Vatican's former Secretary of State.

The unfolding scandal of clergy sex abuse and its institutional cover up in Chile, where he served as papal nuncio from 1978-1988, is likely to definitively close the chapter on his long reign as the Vatican's powerbroker.

But it will not erase the immense — and not always positive — impact he has had on the church and its institutional form to which he dedicated his long and prodigious life as a career diplomat of the Holy See.

One incident where his power and influence were particularly determinant can be traced back to June 22, 2006.

On that day, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was retiring Sodano (a man just five months older than him) and giving the Secretary of State's job to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a trusted assistant from the pope's time as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Although the transition would not take effect until three months later (Sept. 15), it was on this summer day in 2006 — it can be argued — that Benedict inflicted a slow-bleeding and mortal wound to his own pontificate by rebuffing Cardinal Sodano.


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