The Emanuela Orlandi case is being reopened

The Emanuela Orlandi case is being reopened

When it from the Vatican means that something will be clarified, skepticism is indicated. Whether it’s abuse or financial management, power struggles or competing authorities: the modus operandi is to obfuscate and not to examine. There is much to suggest that it will not be any different in the case of Orlandi.

Matthias Rub

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.

Out of nowhere, the Vatican’s main prosecutor announced on Monday that it would reopen the case of the girl Emanuela Orlandi, who disappeared almost four decades ago. The investigation will be led by chief prosecutor Alessandro Diddi, a 57-year-old criminal defense attorney and law professor who hails from Calabria and died in September Pope Francis was appointed chief prosecutor of the Vatican judiciary. Diddi has been working in the Vatican City legal system since 2018.

Mafia, KGB or “Gray Wolves”?

So now he wants to clear up what is probably the Vatican’s most mysterious criminal case in recent decades. In June 1983, Emanuela Orlandi, then 15 years old, disappeared. The daughter of a court servant of Pope John Paul II didn’t come home from music lessons, and to this day there is no trace of her.

There was and is wild speculation about the background to the alleged crime. High-ranking members of the curia were named as suspects, who are said to have abused the girl and even made her pregnant, as well as corrupt Vatican bankers with connections to the Roman or Sicilian mafia. According to other attempts at explanation or conspiracy theories, the Soviet secret service KGB or the extreme right-wing Turkish terror group the “Grey Wolves” were behind the crime, the latter would have wanted to use the kidnapped girl to free the papist perpetrator Mehmet Ali Agca. Six weeks before Emanuela’s disappearance, the 15-year-old Roman woman Mirella Gregori also disappeared, and there is still no trace of her. Are the two cases related, were the girls kidnapped, abused and allegedly killed by the same perpetrators?

Silence in the Vatican

The Italian judiciary, responsible for solving the Orlandi case, closed its investigations in 2015. The Vatican authorities never investigated the matter themselves – until the surprising announcement by chief prosecutor Diddi earlier this week. The mother Emanuela Orlandis, who still lives in the Vatican today, and her older brother Pietro have never given up the search for their daughter and sister, although they complain that they have encountered stubborn silence and a “wall of rubber” in the Vatican. They learned about the investigations led by Diddi from the newspaper.

In July 2019, the mysterious criminal case took another mysterious turn. About a year earlier, Laura Sgrò, a lawyer for the Orlandi family, had received an anonymous letter saying that the remains of the missing Emanuela were in the graves of the German princesses Sophie von Hohenlohe and Charlotte Friederike, who were buried on the Campo Santo Teutonico in the Vatican located in Mecklenburg. After some back and forth, the tombs were finally opened, but nothing came to light.

Even the bones of the princesses allegedly buried there in 1836 and 1840 had disappeared. After the flop, the lawyer said that now one had to find out who had laid the wrong trail and why the Vatican had approved the request to open the empty tombs. As far as we know, the Orlandi family and their lawyer Sgrò have made little progress on this issue, as in the case of the missing Emanuela overall.

In the fall, the Netflix streaming service took on the case with the documentary series Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. The four episodes did not bring any new insights, but old theories were warmed up and spread. In one of the episodes, a friend of Emanuela’s at the time reports that a week before her disappearance, she confided in her that she had been sexually harassed by “a person very close to the Pope”, which made Emanuela “terrified and ashamed”. The series also talks about the alleged dossier in the Vatican, of which the Orlandi family is also convinced. All three popes who had been sitting on the throne of Peter since the girl disappeared and afterwards were aware of this dossier on the case: in addition to John Paul II (1978 to 2005), his successor Benedict XVI, who died on New Year’s Eve 2022. (2005 to 2013) and Pope Francis.

Emanuela’s older brother Pietro Orlandi is convinced that Benedikt’s private secretary, Georg Gänswein, also knows the dossier. In his book of memories and insights, “Nothing but the Truth. My life at the side of Benedict XVI.” Gänswein also deals with the case of Emanuela on five pages. Among other things, Gänswein writes: “I have never compiled anything related to the Orlandi case. This phantom dossier has not been disclosed simply because it does not exist.”

And now chief prosecutor Diddi, together with the gendarmerie of the Vatican, wants to follow every “dead trail” again and follow new leads for the first time. He wants to hear old and new witnesses, including bishops and cardinals. And he wants to reopen the closed files of the Italian prosecutors. They had dropped their investigations after more than three decades without finding anything. Whether Diddi and his people need so much time to find out anything?

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