Pope wants light shed on 40-year-old mystery of missing Vatican girl

April 13, 2023 - 6:09 PM
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Pope Francis greets people on the day of the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, April 12, 2023. (Reuters/Remo Casilli)

 One of Italy’s most enduring mysteries, the disappearance of a Vatican schoolgirl 40 years ago, entered a new chapter on Tuesday when her brother met with a Vatican investigator whom Pope Francis has given free rein to get to the bottom of the case.

Over the past four decades tombs have been opened, bones have been exhumed from forgotten grave sites and conspiracy theories have abounded in attempts to determine just what became of Emanuela Orlandi.

The daughter of a Vatican usher whose family lived in the Vatican, Orlandi, then 15, failed to return home on June 22, 1983 following a music lesson in Rome.

The case, which has been the subject of on-and-off investigations in Italy and the Vatican, has drawn fresh worldwide attention following the release late last year of the Netflix series “Vatican Girl”.

In January, Vatican chief prosecutor Alessandro Diddi reopened a previous inconclusive Vatican investigation after he inherited files from his retired predecessor.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper ahead of the meeting, Diddi said Pope Francis wants “the truth to emerge without any reservations”. He said the pope had an “iron will” regarding the case.

Emanuela’s older brother Pietro and the family lawyer, Laura Sgro, met with Diddi in the Vatican for more than five hours on Tuesday afternoon.

“We hope this can shed light on this episode and write a page of history,” Sgro told reporters afterwards, saying that the Vatican’s openness and the pope’s determination was “absolutely positive”.

Theories about Orlandi’s disappearance have run the gamut. In the 1980s, Italian media speculated she had been kidnapped in an attempt to secure freedom for Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk jailed in 1981 for trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II, though nothing came of the link and the suggestion faded.

Other reports linked her to the grave of Enrico De Pedis, a mobster buried in a Rome basilica. His tomb was opened in 2012 but nothing was revealed, and in the interview with Corriere della Sera, Diddi said the suspected link between the girl’s disappearance and the Rome crime clan had been “over evaluated”.

In 2019, the Orlandi family received an anonymous letter saying Emanuela’s body might be hidden among the dead in the Teutonic Cemetery just inside the Vatican walls, where a statue of an angel holding a book reads “Requiescat in Pace,” Latin for “Rest in Peace”.

Two tombs were opened and nothing was found, not even the bones of two 19th century princesses supposed to be buried there. They apparently had been moved during restructuring work decades before Orlandi was born.

In 2018, bones found during ground work at the Vatican embassy in Rome sparked a media frenzy suggesting they might belong to Orlandi or to Mirella Gregori, another teenager who disappeared the same year. DNA tests were negative.

Last month, Italy’s lower house approved the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate the disappearances of both girls.

Police have never excluded the possibility that Orlandi may have been abducted and possibly killed for reasons with no connection to the Vatican, or been a victim of human trafficking.

She would be 55 now.

—Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff and Bill Berkrot