ROME – After the Vatican opened an investigation last December and the Italian parliament is currently considering its own probe, the city of Rome too has announced a new inquest into the 1983 disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, at the time the 15-year-old daughter of an employee of the Prefecture of the Papal Household whose family lived in a Vatican apartment.
Orlandi’s case recently was popularized by the Netflix series “Vatican Girl,” and most observers credit the flurry of new investigations, at least in part, to the heightened public interest created by the documentary.
The chief prosecutor of Rome, roughly equivalent to a district attorney in the United States, announced the new investigation this week. It will be the third such probe by the Roman procurator’s office in the 40 years since Orlandi disappeared. The first unfolded between 1983 and 1997, and the second from 2008 to 2015.
That second investigation was closed in 2015 by the chief prosecutor of Rome at the time, a veteran Italian jurist named Giuseppe Pignatone, who today serves as the president of the civil tribunal of the Vatican City State.
The Italian news agency Ansa reported Tuesday that the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice, Alessandro Diddi, has turned over files from his investigation to Stefano Luciani, the official in the Rome procurator’s office now responsible for the new Orlandi review.
Pietro Orlandi, the brother of Emanuela who’s devoted his life to the search for the truth about his sister’s disappearance, told reporters the Vatican’s cooperation with the Roman probe is a departure from the past.
“It’s positive that the Roman procurator has acquired the acts from the Vatican, because for the first time there will be collaboration, always denied in the past, between the Holy See and the [Italian justice system],” he said.
That’s a charge recently echoed by Giancarlo Capaldo, a retired Roman official who led the last investigation of the Orlandi case that was closed in 2015. In April, Capaldo told an Italian television program that in his experience there had been “no cooperation by Vatican with investigations of Italian magistrates.”
Among other things, Capaldo has claimed that in 2012 officials of the Vatican gendarmes offered to help identify Orlandi’s remains in exchange for assistance with removing the body of a mob boss who’d been entombed in a Roman basilica. Both officials involved have denied that claim, suggesting Capaldo misunderstood their intent.
The Vatican has always rejected charges of stonewalling investigations into the Orlandi case. In a 2012 statement from then-Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, he insisted the Vatican has cooperated with Italian authorities from the start.
The 40th anniversary of Orlandi’s disappearance will fall next month, on June 22.
Veteran Italian journalist Fabrizio Peronaci, writing in Corriere della Sera, has suggested that the new probe of the Orlandi case by the procurator’s office could be combined with one already underway into the January 1984 murder of Katy Skerl, a 17-year-old girl at the time whose body was discovered in the countryside outside Grottaferrata, a small community southeast of Rome.
Over the years, some theorists have linked Skerl’s murder to the Orlandi case, noting, among other things, that Skerl was a classmate in a Roman high school of Snejna Vassilev, the daughter of one of three Bulgarian functionaries in Rome initially accused of complicity in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.
Marco Accetti, a 67-year-old Roman photographer whose claims to have played a key role in the Orlandi affair have generated both interest and skepticism over the years, has asserted Skerl was killed on the order of a faction in the Vatican, opposed to the group which orchestrated the kidnapping of Orlandi, as part of an internal power struggle. To date, however, he’s offered no proof.
The Italian Chamber of Deputies voted overwhelmingly in March to authorize an inquest on behalf of parliament, and it seemed at the time the Senate would follow suit. Momentum stalled, however, after Pietro Orlandi went on Italian TV to play an audio recording of an ex-Roman mobster accusing the late Pope John Paul II of conniving in a pedophile ring in the Vatican, and suggesting that Emanuela Orlandi might have been killed to cover it up.
Those suggestions caused a furor, with Pope Francis twice publicly rejecting the charges against his predecessor. Key members of the senate have either withdrawn or modified their support for a probe in the wake of the controversy, with a vote now not expected until June at the earliest, and possibly after the summer.