Vatican Pledges to Look Into 1983 Disappearance of a Teenage Girl

ROME — Four decades after the daughter of a Vatican employee vanished from a street in Rome while walking home from a music lesson, a case that has spawned endless theories by a transfixed Italian public is getting a fresh look, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

The Vatican’s top prosecutor, Alessandro Diddi, said his office would try to “give answers” to the family of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, who was last seen on June 22, 1983.

Although Emanuela’s survivors have pressed the Vatican for years for information, the prosecutor’s sudden decision to look into one of Italy’s most famous cold cases took them by surprise.

“You have to explain why the case was reopened now,” a lawyer for the family, Laura Sgro, said Tuesday. “We hope that the prosecutor’s will is effectively real and will come to something soon.”

Her last filing on the case, Ms. Sgro noted, was 2019. Then in late 2021, she followed up with a letter written to Pope Francis telling the pontiff that new information had emerged that the family hoped to share with the Vatican.

Francis urged her to contact the Vatican prosecutor “in the spirit of full cooperation,” but when she reached out to Mr. Diddi a year ago, she got no response, Ms. Sgro said.

Over the decades, the family’s quest to discover what happened to the teenager has taken many tortuous twists. Reports have variously linked her fate to the Sicilian Mafia, Bulgarian agents, a notorious Roman crime gang, the assassination attempt on John Paul II, by way of an American archbishop involved in a major Italian banking scandal.

Previous investigations led nowhere. One involved the exhumation of bones from a crypt in a church in Rome, and another a search for evidence in a Vatican cemetery, which the Vatican allowed.

A photograph released by Vatican Media showing the opening of the ossuary at the Teutonic Cemetery in the Vatican as part of an inquiry into the case of Emanuela Orlandi in 2019.Credit…Vatican Media, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Until this week, the Vatican has never formally investigated the case itself, saying that the disappearance took place on Italian soil.

Mr. Diddi said that after becoming chief Vatican prosecutor three months ago, he began reviewing the requests made to it over the years by the Orlandi family. “We are putting in order all the things that have been presented to us,” he said.

Though dozens of books and documentaries have focused on the case in Italy, it received greater exposure after the release on Netflix last October of a four-part series titled “Vatican Girl,” which explores the various theories that have emerged about her disappearance. The series also took the Vatican to task for not carrying out its own investigation and not doing more to help Italian authorities over the decades.

“It was the first time the story was told internationally,” said Chiara Messineo, the producer of the series, and it engaged audiences with “the story of a family that lost a daughter and a sister, that is very much also the story of a small a pawn caught up” in a global chessboard.

Ms. Messineo, speaking from her home in London, said she believed the popularity of the series had increased the pressure on the Vatican “so that they had to do something.”

An undated picture of Emanuela Orlandi.Credit…via Associated Press

Ms. Sgro, the lawyer, said a request made by lawmakers last month to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the girl’s disappearance, along with two other cold cases, may have also prompted the Vatican to finally act.

“There is evidence that the Vatican knows much more than it has let on,” Senator Carlo Calenda told reporters at a news conference at which the proposal was presented in December.

The proposal for a parliamentary commission must be approved by both chambers of Parliament to get off the ground.

“We are a great secular nation that treats the Vatican with respect,” Mr. Calenda said, “but certainly cannot consider this case closed in the way it’s been closed.”

The Vatican, too, has an interest in solving the mystery of Emanuela’s fate, he said, because the truth “always comes out in the end.”

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