Edmund Szoka, American cardinal and pope’s confidant, dies at 86


Cardinal Edmund Szoka, shown in 2009, was the former governor of Vatican City and the head of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He died Aug. 20 in Novi, Mich., at the age of 86. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Edmund Szoka, an American cardinal who served as governor and financial administrator of the Vatican and was a confidant of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II, died Aug. 20 at a hospital in Novi, Mich. He was 86.

The Archdiocese of Detroit announced the death but did not cite a specific cause.

Cardinal Szoka received his first assignment as a priest in 1954, as associate pastor of a parish in Michigan’s rural Upper Peninsula. By the early 1990s, he was the Vatican’s point man for finance. And by the end of that decade, he was running one of the world’s smallest countries: Vatican City.

In between, Cardinal Szoka honed his administrative skills as the first bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord and, later, archbishop of Detroit.

Edmund Casimir Szoka was born Sept. 14, 1927, in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Polish immigrants.

Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka celebrates a Mass at the Vatican in 2006. Szoka served as governor and financial administrator of the Vatican and was a confidant of Pope John Paul II. (Plinio Lepri/AP)

His leadership of the Detroit archdiocese was highlighted by Pope John Paul II’s 1987 visit to Michigan. Cardinal Szoka also endured criticism for closing more than 30 small parishes in Detroit. John Paul II made him a cardinal in 1988.

Cardinal Szoka grew close to the Polish-born John Paul II, spending Christmas and Easter dinners with him, prayed for the pontiff at his deathbed and led a rosary in St. Peter’s Square the night he died.

In 1990, Cardinal Szoka became president of the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, which audits Vatican accounts, approves or disapproves budgets and handles major financial transactions such as buying and selling property.

By demanding strict financial accountability from within and requiring regular contributions from dioceses worldwide, the Vatican operated in the black under Cardinal Szoka’s leadership.

As governor of Vatican City, Cardinal Szoka held executive and legislative power in the city-state. He managed annual budgets and oversaw the famous collection of Vatican buildings and artworks.

“At the time I was nominated, I worried about taking on an administrative post at my age,” Cardinal Szoka told Inside the Vatican magazine in 1998. “I was 70 . . . but after a few days in it, I felt fine — challenges inspire new energies.”

Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cardinal Szoka’s resignation a day after his 79th birthday in 2006.

After his retirement from active ministry, Cardinal Szoka lived in the Detroit suburb of Northville.

“I continue to be a priest and will be until I die,” Cardinal Szoka told the Grand Rapids Press in 2006.

— Associated Press

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