Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State emeritus and Dean emeritus of the College of Cardinals, passed away on Friday evening, 27 May, at Columbus Hospital in Rome, where he was admitted on 9 May after experiencing Covid-19 related complications. He was 94 years old. Pope Francis, upon hearing the news, sent a telegram to Ms Maria Sodano, the late Cardinal’s sister. Following are a translation of the Pope’s telegram which was written in Italian, and a brief biography of the late Cardinal.
The passing of Cardinal Angelo Sodano stirs in my soul sentiments of gratitude to the Lord for the gift of this esteemed man of the Church, who lived his priesthood with generosity, first in the Diocese of Asti and then, for the rest of his long life, in the service of the Holy See. I remember his diligent work alongside many of my predecessors, who entrusted important responsibilities to him in Vatican diplomacy, culminating in the delicate office of Secretary of State. In the pontifical representations in Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile, he devoted himself zealously to the good of those populations, promoting dialogue and reconciliation. In the Roman Curia, he carried out his mission with exemplary dedication. I too was able to benefit from his gifts of the mind and of the heart, especially while he exercised the role of Dean of the College of Cardinals. In every task he showed himself to be an ecclesially disciplined man, and an amiable pastor, inspired by the desire to spread the leaven of the Gospel everywhere. To God the Merciful Father I raise prayers for the repose of the soul of the late cardinal, that he may welcome him in eternal joy, and as I express my closeness to the relatives and the community of Asti, I send my blessing to all those who mourn his passing, with a special and grateful thought to the Sisters of Santa Marta and those who lovingly assisted him.
Secretary of State for nearly 16 years, from 1990 to 2006, Cardinal Angelo Sodano was a key player in the Holy See’s peace-making efforts around the world during the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Pope Francis once said of him: “The testimony that today seems to me perhaps the greatest that he gives us is that of an ecclesially disciplined man” (Cardinal Sodano’s 90th birthday, 7 December 2017).
The second of six children, Angelo Sodano was born in Isola d’Asti in the Province of Asti in Piedmont, to Giovanni Sodano — member of the Italian Parliament from 1948 to 1963, elected by the Christian Democratic Party — and Delfina Brignolo.
He began nurturing his vocation to the priesthood in the lively ecclesial environment of his home-town and lived out his passion for this Christian reality throughout his life. In fact, he enthusiastically collaborated with “L’Osservatore Romano” on a feature piece about Prospera Gianasso — a laywoman from Asti — published on 4 September 2001. Professor Gianasso had been a friend of “nonna Rosa” and a teacher of Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis’ grandmother and father, respectively.
It was precisely from these strong roots of faith and evangelization that Angelo Sodano’s vocation to serve the Church was born. Angelo Sodano entered the seminary of Asti in October 1938 and completed philosophy and theology courses. He then travelled to Rome, where he obtained degrees in Theology and Canon Law.
He was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Asti on 23 September 1950, and dedicated the first years of his ministry to teaching dogmatic theology.
In 1959, during Saint John XXIII’s Pontificate, Sodano was called to serve the Holy See by the then Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Angelo Dell’Acqua, later cardinal.
After completing coursework at the Pontifical Ecclesial Academy, in 1961, Sodano became a pontifical representative in Ecuador, Uruguay and Chile.
Called back to Rome in 1968, he worked with the Council for the Church’s Public Affairs until 1977, under the leadership of Archbishop Agostino Casaroli. In that role he was able to complete numerous initiatives and visit Eastern European countries, in particular Romania, Hungary and the German Democratic Republic.
On 30 November 1977, Saint Paul VI appointed him Titular Archbishop of Nova di Cesare and Apostolic Nuncio to Chile.
He was ordained a bishop on 15 January 1978 in Asti by Cardinal Antonio Samorè. The new Apostolic Nuncio travelled to Chile, where he worked for more than 10 years, visiting nearly all the dioceses and collaborating directly for the positive conclusion of the pontifical mediation between Chile and Argentina, for a peaceful resolution to the controversy regarding the sovereignty of the two states.
The Chilean people manifested their gratitude for Nuncio Sodano’s service. The Nuncio received an unforgettably warm welcome in October 1998, when he returned to Chile as a Pontifical Representative 10 years after having concluded his mission there.
On 23 May 1988, Saint John Paul II appointed him Secretary of the then Council for the Church’s Public Affairs. On 1 March 1989, with the enactment of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, he was given the role of Secretary for Relations with States. He dedicated special attention to the Pontifical Commission for Russia, of which he had been President, and which was suppressed on 15 January 1993.
He also represented the Holy See in numerous international meetings, including with Foreign Ministers at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (c.s.c.e.) held in Vienna, Copenhagen, New York and Paris. On 1 December 1990, he succeeded Cardinal Agostino Casaroli as Pro-Secretary of State.
The Pope created him a Cardinal at the Consistory on 28 June 1991, giving him the Title of Santa Maria Nuova. The following day he was appointed Secretary of State and also became the President of the interdicasterial commission for the particular churches and of that for Churches in Eastern Europe.
As Secretary of State, he accompanied John Paul II and Benedict XVI on their Apostolic journeys.
Cardinal Sodano’s top priority was promoting dialogue for peace during a particularly complex moment in history marked by significant changes in the international sphere. After the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, the Cardinal redoubled his efforts to renew and strengthen diplomatic ties on the new world stage, especially in Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
He led the Holy See’s diplomacy efforts between wars and peace strategies — in the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia and the African Great Lakes region — and in moments of tremendous international tension, like during the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. Sodano’s mission was one of peace and reconciliation that upheld the dignity and rights of the person.
On 27 November 2002, he was elected Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals.
After John Paul II’s death in 2005, Cardinal Sodano participated in the Conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI on 19 April 2005. The new Pope confirmed him as Secretary of State, and on 27 April 2005, Sodano was elected Dean of the College of Cardinals.
On 22 June 2006, Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation from his position as Secretary of State, asking him however, to remain in that role until the following 15 September. On 21 December 2019 he resigned as Dean of the College of Cardinals. In the Roman Curia, Cardinal Sodano was a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, the Congregation for Bishops, the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State and the Cardinals’ Commission to oversee the Institute for the Works of Religion.