Vatican prosecutor: Pope Francis wants the truth about ‘Vatican girl’ case

vatican girl From the Netflix documentary series, "Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi" | Netflix

The chief prosecutor of the Vatican City State court met Tuesday with the brother of Emanuela Orlandi, a teenage girl who went missing from Vatican City nearly 40 years ago.

Vatican prosecutor Alessandro Diddi said April 11 that Pope Francis has granted him “maximum freedom of action to investigate [Orlandi’s case] on a broad scale without conditions of any kind.”

“Pope Francis tenaciously pursues the desire for absolute transparency, the search for truth and purification,” Diddi said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

Emanuela Orlandi was the 15-year-old daughter of Ercole Orlandi, an envoy of the Prefecture of the Pontifical House and a citizen of Vatican City State. Her disappearance on June 22, 1983, after leaving for a music lesson in Rome dominated headlines and has been the subject of speculation for years.

Diddi met with Orlandi’s older brother, Piero, and his lawyer on April 11. According to Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, the meeting, requested by Orlandi, served as an occasion for Orlandi to “make his own statements and to offer any information in his possession to the file opened by the Vatican promoter of justice in January.”

“In January of this year, I received from the pope the task of dealing with the case and … I decided to bring together all the information found in a single file, having immediately understood the relevance of the material I had available,” Diddi said.

“In conjunction with this initiative, a parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up in Italy and therefore there will be fruitful collaboration between the two states.”

Pope Francis appointed Diddi as the chief prosecutor in September 2022. Prior to the appointment, Diddi was already serving as the lead investigator for the Vatican’s major finance trial against defendant Cardinal Angelo Becciu and nine others. He also has a background as a criminal defense lawyer in Rome.

Diddi clarified in the interview that his investigation is limited to the confines of Vatican City State. He said: “I enjoy broad autonomy, but for investigations on Italian soil I necessarily have to interface with the public prosecutor’s office of Rome and with the new prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi.”

The Vatican promoter of justice announced in January that the investigation into Orlandi’s case would be reopened in response to several requests made by her family.

The Vatican statement did not elaborate further on the reasons why the case is being reopened, but public interest in the case was rekindled last fall after the release of “Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi” on Netflix.

The true-crime docuseries directed by Mark Lewis premiered on the streaming service in October 2022. The series featured interviews with subjects who proffer numerous theories about Orlandi’s disappearance, none of which have been substantiated.

In April 2020, a Vatican judge officially closed the case, which had been reopened the previous year after members of Orlandi’s family received a tip that the girl’s remains could be in a Vatican cemetery. That investigation ultimately authorized the opening of two tombs in the cemetery of the Teutonic College, which sits on Vatican-owned property adjacent to the city-state; those graves were found to be completely empty, and in an unexpected twist, Vatican officials discovered “thousands” of human bones — not Orlandi’s — in a previously unknown ossuary nearby.

Scientific tests carried out in July 2019 on bone fragments found in connection to the investigation revealed the bones to be too old to be Orlandi’s remains, according to Vatican statements at the time.

Almost two weeks after she disappeared, Pope John Paul II mentioned her in his weekly Angelus prayer and asked those responsible for her disappearance to come forward. Shortly after this, her family began receiving telephone calls from people claiming to be associated with Turkish nationalist groups who said they had kidnapped Orlandi as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Mehmet Ali Ağca, John Paul’s would-be assassin. Ağca has later claimed several times, most recently in 2006, that Orlandi is alive and well, perhaps in a convent. This has never been confirmed.

Others speculate that the Italian Mafia was involved in her disappearance or that she was kidnapped on the order of a cleric to send a message to her Vatican-employed father.

The docuseries saves for the final episode the theory that the Vatican was involved in some way in Orlandi’s disappearance, based on a new interview with a childhood friend of the missing girl. The Vatican denies having any role in her disappearance.

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According to Diddi, both the pope and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin have told him “not to keep silent about anything” concerning Orlandi’s case in the latest stage of the investigation.

“The pope’s and the secretary of state’s strong desire and ‘iron will’ are to have complete clarity,” he said.

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