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ROME – Vatican mysteries are a bit like volcanoes, in that they may remain dormant for a long time, but when they erupt, like Mauna Loa in Hawaii right not, it’s usually something spectacular. That’s what seems to be happening right now with the case of Emanuela Orlandi, perhaps the most prodigious such mystery story of the last half-century.
Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican functionary, disappeared into thin air in 1983. Ever since, her fate has generated a beehive of theories and speculation, usually fueled by would-be bombshell revelations which, upon examination, turn out to deliver less than promised.
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In brief, there have been suggestions over the years that Orlandi was kidnapped in an effort to secure the release of Mehmet Ali Ağca, the would-be assassin of Pope John Paul II; that Orlandi’s disappearance was orchestrated by the KGB to compel John Paul to back off his support for Solidarity in Poland; that Orlandi was taken by the Roman mob in order to force the Vatican to reimburse its losses in the Vatican bank scandals; and that Orlandi fell victim to a gang of pedophiles inside the Vatican itself.
The new prominence of the Orlandi case is largely due to a recent four-part Netflix documentary, “Vatican Girl,” which introduces the story to a new generation of devotees of what the Italians call a giallo, or “yellow,” meaning a mystery. (The term is owed to a famous series of Italian detective stories that debuted in 1929, the distinctive feature of which was the bright yellow cover on each volume.)
In recent days, there have been efforts to link the Orlandi case to a 1998 murder-suicide in the Swiss Guards, which has generated its own profusion of conspiracy theories, as well as to the 1983 murder of a 12-year-old Uruguayan boy in Rome named Josè Garramon.
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Now there are two more new twists to the saga, both brought to light by the Italian press.
First, the Italian newspaper Il Giornale reported that it had been allowed to listen to a recording secretly made in 2009 by the author of a popular Italian true crime blog called Notte Criminali, or “Criminal Notes,” which has not been previously revealed. The recording supposedly is of a conversation with a former associate of the infamous Roman crime boss Enrico de Pedis, in which the associate says he’s ready to name the gang’s interlocutor in the Orlandi kidnapping if a judicial authority asks.
Rumors of de Pedis’s involvement in the Orlandi affair are already well known. In 2008, an ex-girlfriend of de Pedis, Sabrina Minardi, testified that the crime boss had asked her to take Orlandi in a car to the top of Rome’s Janiculum hill shortly after the kidnapping and turn her over to a cleric who arrived in a black sedan dressed “in a tunic with little buttons in front.”
Apparently, the new recording names someone in the Vatican as being involved.
“Even though the statements recorded in this audio are to be taken with a grain of salt,” Il Giornale concluded, “its contents are shocking.”
The newspaper said the recording contains “very serious accusations … which are entirely to be proven,” but, if they turn out to be true, they “would generate an earthquake of catastrophic proportions inside the Vatican.”
Supposedly, the blog plans to publish a transcript of the recording in short order.
The other new development was a piece published Wednesday by Corriere della Sera, the most respected daily paper in Italy, which contains excerpts from a previously undisclosed piece of testimony collected as part of a police investigation of the Orlandi case.
The testimony comes from an Italian named Marco Accetti, who famously came forward in 2013 claiming to have been intimately involved in the kidnapping, doling out just enough detail to lend a surface credibility to his claims.
In “Vatican Girl,” Orlandi’s brother Pietro, who’s dedicated his life to searching for the truth about his sister’s disappearance, dismisses Accetti as a fraud. Yet the 67-year-old Accetti seemed to gain some credibility last summer when he correctly predicted that if investigators were to open the tomb of Katty Skerl, a 17-year-old killed in 1984 whose case often has been linked with Orlandi, they’d find her coffin missing.
In the portion of Accetti’s testimony quoted in the Corriere article, he claims to have been hired to participate in the kidnapping of Orlandi by a shadowy group of clergy and laity in and around the Vatican, known by the term “ganglion,” who were opposed to Pope John Paul II’s strongly anti-Communist stance and who wanted to quietly close the books on the Vatican bank scandals. In the latter effort they were joined by the mafia, including de Pedis, whom Accetti says was intimately involved in the Orlandi kidnapping.
To hear Accetti tell the story, the Orlandi kidnapping was supposed to be a temporary expedient which failed to produce the desired result. What happened next, perhaps, is contained in the rest of Accetti’s testimony, which has still not been released to the public.
By the way, the testimony was collected as part of an investigation opened in 2008 by an associate Roman prosecutor named Giancarlo Capaldo. That investigation was closed in 2015 by order of Capaldo’s boss, the chief prosecutor for Rome at the time, whose name is Giuseppe Pignatone.
In what conspiracy-minded observers certainly won’t see as a coincidence, four years after closing the door on the Orlandi probe, Pignatone was appointed by Pope Francis as president of the Tribunal of the Vatican City State.