In 1998, accusations against Father Maciel crossed the desk of a powerful German cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, who led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which handled abuse cases. Cardinal Ratzinger ordered an investigation, but opposition — critics say led by Cardinal Sodano — led Cardinal Ratzinger to table the investigation for years.
Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. A year later, he replaced Cardinal Sodano.
But for nearly another 15 years, Cardinal Sodano served as dean of the College of Cardinals, though he had passed the voting age of 80 to participate in the 2013 conclave to elect a new pope after Benedict’s resignation.
Vatican analysts reported that Cardinal Sodano used his influence to benefit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was elected in that conclave and took the name of Francis. But the cardinal’s influence waned in the new pontificate, which sought to confront, albeit with mixed results, the church bureaucracy that Cardinal Sodano had long controlled.
Francis has also taken significant steps to shed light on the Vatican’s missteps in handling the scourge of sexual abuse, moves that did not always reflect well on Cardinal Sodano.
In Chile, Cardinal Sodano had also became close to Fernando Karadima, another charismatic priest, who had become influential among the social elite of the capital, Santiago, and who had deep connections to the country’s military regime. As early as the 1980s, accusations surfaced of Mr. Karadima’s abusing boys, but Chilean prelates continuously dismissed the charges.